We need a theological shift from looking at sacred spaces, to believing in sacred faces; a shift from seeing a building as a sacred place, to seeing people as the sacred place. You see, I believe that if we start seeing life as the sacred space [all life], taking a life becomes harder. Let me explain my thought process.
Over the past 2,000 years we have put places over people. In the average American church we spend much more on our buildings than we do on people, ending hunger, and clothing people, caring for their health needs or finding them a decent place to live. In so doing, we have placed buildings over people; we messed-up our priorities. Even if churches claim to put people first, their actions have spoken very different words. About ten years ago I spoke with a pastor from a church planned on spending some $60 million on the church building over the next five years. When I spoke with the pastor at that time about his plans, I wondered how many people the church could feed with that money. The pastor’s response was rather typical, “If we have a bigger building, we can save more people and in turn raise more money to help the poor.” [Granted, we can find many things theological wrong with that response, but let’s focus on the building.] But that reality never appeared. Yet, as of today, that church has spent well over its $60 million projection, and to this date they have not increased their involvement to the poor, in fact it has declined because of building upkeep.
I have often found it interesting that in hard times the church stops helping others, and focuses on their building. One pastor friend framed this understanding the best. He said, “If we make the building look good, and keep it up, people will come in and worship with us.” My only response was, “Yea, how is that working for you?” The reality is, the church keeps declining, but the building looks great. What I am seeing is that we are developing some pretty good looking corps’.
Here is what I think we, as a church, need to be doing:
Become the face of share: Encourage people in the church to bring food weekly to the church. Let those with, help those without. When I was at Fellowship we started a “community pantry.” What always amazed me was, people who had the least, gave the most. I believe this is found in the reality that people, who have had to struggle through life, know the pain of not having and they desire to help others, so they do not have to have that pain.
Become the face of connection: One of the great strengths of the early church movement, and the beginning of the Methodist movement, was the ability to connect. I can remember reading stories of how the early Methodist church members would stand together during hard times to build each other up. For example, if a member owned a small grocery store, people in the church would buy in that store. And in turn, the owner of the store, if they needed to expand, would bring in a contractor who was part of the church. Or, if they needed to hire staff, they would hire from the church.
Become the face of care: People will never care about your view of their eternal life, if they do not feel you care for their temporal life. Mother Teresa said it best. She would often tell people that to help someone fill their spirit; you need to first fill their bellies. Think of it this way, if you have a need and all you get from your church and pastor is, “I’ll pray for you” how do you feel? Sure, prayer is important, but so is caring for the physical needs of the people.
Why? Given these hard economic times why is the church not stepping up to the plate to help those with needs? Why is the church less involved in feeding the poor and disenfranchised? The challenge, as I see it, is… can the church move from seeing sacred spaces, to seeing scared faces?