By Monte Shanks, Ph.D.
Dr. Monte Shanks is an Asst. Professor of NT at Liberty Seminary
Mausoleums or Ministry Centers
I’m guessing that most of us have heard of the Taj Mahal. Some may not know where it is, but the name is certainly familiar enough (it’s in India if you were wondering). But what most people are unsure of is what the place actually is. The most that some know is that it is a “fancy place.” The fact is that the Taj Mahal is primarily and foremost a mausoleum—in other words; it’s a place to store dead people. I won’t bother you with a lot of details, but about 360 years ago a king built it for resting place of his beloved queen who died during childbirth. Another very famous mausoleum is the West Minister Abbey, which is where England buries her royalty and national heroes. The sad thing about the Abbey is that it originally was a church, but it ceased to be so hundreds of years ago. Now it a place for royal weddings and storing dead people.
It strikes me that a lot of church facilities are more like mausoleums than ministry centers. For some reason we Christians get attached to the buildings where we worship, and sooner or later we turn them into things of worship, which inevitably leads them to becoming more like mausoleums—which are places that people generally don’t want to spend a lot of time. It’s a rather odd habit to say the least. Jesus knew this about us, he once said “. . . for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16.8b-9). Simply put, Jesus noticed that the people of God weren’t too smart about using money for the purpose of reaching the lost for Him, and this is most obvious with respect to how we use our church buildings.
Most church facilities are basically cared for like mausoleums that are filled with dated esthetics and furniture, instead centers for constant ministry activities. Our facilities should be more like college campuses than places that are primarily used one day a week, or where people go to get married or buried. Think of it this way, if church buildings were businesses then it wouldn’t be long before Christianity would go bankrupt because of lack of use. In order for a retail outlet to be profitably it must be easily accessible and endure a lot of foot traffic. To put it simply, in order for a store to make money it needs to have a lot of different people go to it and they need to do so often. Some may say “how crass, you aren’t talking about a store, but about the church!” And I say that mindset couldn’t be more wrong! Those who are in Christ and are members of your congregation are those that Jesus has made holy, not the facility in which you meet. If people in your fellowship start thinking of the building where you meet as something sacred and requires preservation, then they will inevitably become an impediment to effective ministry with respect to the use of your fellowship’s facilities. And if they become the majority, then your church will function more like a mausoleum than a ministry center. They will in essence turn your facility into sterile places of inactivity rather than a place where sinners regularly come and have their lives changed through the gospel.
It’s tragic that as fellowships grow more and more people try to make their ministry facilities more and more comfortable, and inevitably nicer carpet, furniture, and décor begins to show up. This has an unintended consequence, which is an insatiable desire to protect and preserve the building’s esthetics. The only way this can be done is if those in charge restrict the availability and use of the ministry’s facilities. In other words, some in your congregation will become more concerned with preserving everything within the building, rather than hoping it all gets worn out by constant use. The interesting thing about retail stores is that they account for the wear, abuse, damage, and theft as part of the price of doing business, and if they didn’t they would lose money! In case you are unaware, baked into the price of everything you buy at the grocery store is the cost of what someone else steals or breaks. Moreover, whether you realize it or not, all of that furniture, carpet, and décor in your facility will become dated in about 10 years. In other words, it will not be long before your facility’s esthetics start to become less fashionable and attractive to visitors and seekers, so what’s the use in trying to preserve it all? Why not allow it to be used and worn out for the cause of the gospel? Moreover, people are messy, especially with things they didn’t buy with their own money. Consequently, if more and more people begin to come to your “chapel,” they will inevitably spill things, tear things, break things, and even possibly vomit on things—as anyone in children’s ministry can attest. So we should get use to it and realize that it’s all part of the price of doing effective ministry. I’m not suggesting that we should allow people to intentionally abuse the resources that God has entrusted to us. Nevertheless, wear and tear as well as accidental abuses will occur, and when they do, the last thing anyone should do is get mad or upset because someone has messed up the esthetics of your ministry facilities. The bottom line is this, church buildings should be envisioned as beehives of ministry, training, and worship rather than mausoleums where dead people go once a week.
Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2014