Monday, August 18, 2014

Bigger Barns Syndrome

This is a story of three buildings.

The first one is on a corner lot less than a mile from my home. It’s an unfinished concrete-block structure, surrounded by weeds, and it’s been that way for a while – a year or more. 

It started out as just an empty lot, and one day a sign popped up: “GOD DID IT!” For a while we weren’t sure what it was God had done (Mowed the weeds? Fertilized them? Picked up the trash?), until another sign popped up indicating that a local church was growing an expected to expand there soon. OK, I figured, that’s nice.

The lot stayed that way for a year or more, longer. 

Then someone started doing some construction. Concrete blocks began to pile up in the shape of a building. A new sign appeared naming a pastor.

Then it all stopped. And it’s been stuck at “bare concrete block” stage for more than a year now. The sign naming the pastor disappeared. A new one naming a different pastor popped up. And that’s where it stands as of today.

The second building is one I’ve talked about here before. It’s the one associated with Celebration of Praise Church in nearby Clermont. The details are messy, but the sum of what happened is, this church decided to go deeply into debt to buy some new land and build a new facility, complete with things like a pool and spa. Then there was some kind of dustup with the congregation splitting, and the body that remained was saddled with the debt, which they couldn’t manage. They ended up selling the whole facility to the city of Clermont.

The third building is another uncompleted eyesore like the first. The local leading Christian TV station, Channel 55, had this vision of building a skyscraper right along Interstate 4, the main drag in town, up in the metropolitan county just north of Orlando. It was 18 stories high, and was to be the tallest building in that county; it was given the ostentatious title, “The Majesty Building”. Construction started in February 2001 and was planned as a sort of “pay as we go” project.

Problem is, after a little while, people stopped paying.

For a long time there was no visible progress, just a concrete skeleton. There was also a construction crane that never seemed to be doing anything. Word was that it cost so much to put the crane up that it was more cost effective to let it stand there doing nothing than to take it down. Then, finally, they put the glass walls in (for most of it, anyway), and the crane went down. But as of this day it’s still an unfinished behemoth, to say nothing of a monumental embarrassment that’s seen by tens of thousands of motorists every day.

You’ll have noticed the obvious theme by now: Christians addicted to the new and often spectacular building project. But there’s a hidden dimension that’s not so obvious, which is the needs that go unmet and the projects that go undone because we chose the new and spectacular instead.

The key question I have is, why do we ever go for the new and flashy when we haven’t finished with our prior assignments yet?

As far as I can tell, none of these projects were necessary. All three of them had buildings they were already doing just fine in. The TV station sure hasn’t gone off the air for lack of this new building. How about instead of a new building, they produce some more quality programming? Some material to disciple rather than entertain? How about they use those funds to do some community leadership – start a new ministry to feed the hungry, or help support an already established one (probably a better idea), then do some TV specials on that ministry? This obviously needs doing – we still have hungry people around here, and they can’t eat an unfinished building. Further, a documentary on how Christians feed the hungry is a far better witness than a shiny new building, even if it does get finished. Right?

Obviously, I’m not saying that all such projects end up like the Majesty Building. I’m also not saying there are not times when we need a new building (like when the old one is e.g., uninhabitable). But this building project offers us a sobering lesson:

This I will do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and goods. (Luke 12:18)

My nearby lot, Celebration of Praise, and the Majesty Building, have too much of the scent of “laying up treasure for ourselves.” Let’s finish what we start and finish what needs finishing before we start building bigger barns.

1 comment:

  1. Ah Yes building number 3, the eye-sore on Route 4. I watched a preacher in Orlando praying to have the necessary funds to complete the "next phase" of construction. This same man then proceeded to pour "holy oil" on the camera for anointing. To this day I don't know if the camera was "holy" enough to fly out the window.