Why invest in a building? And, How to keep a building in its proper place

Posted by Stephen Witmer on December 8th, 2015

Why invest in a building? And, How to keep a building in its proper place

Some thoughts from the PCF Elders • December 2015

Our PCF mission: ‘We exist to be a Jesus-centered community in Pepperell, speaking gospel words and doing gospel works to display the worth of God to the world.’

Our PCF vision: ‘Ten years from now, the gospel will be central to the life of PCF and PCF will be central to the life of Pepperell and surrounding communities. Specifically, we see a thriving PCF congregation regularly reaching out to Pepperell from a new facility at our current site, and having planted a new church in an area community.’

As a church, we’re moving forward with a plan to thoroughly renew and improve our current facilities. Phase 1 of our building plan will link our two current buildings with an attractive and welcoming side entrance and lobby, increase the size of our sanctuary, and add a small steeple at the front of our property, facing Main Street.

In order to accomplish Phase 1, we will need the generous support of all our PCF members and regular attenders. So, as each of us begins to consider how we can generously contribute to this project, we should each be asking the question, Why invest in a building? We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars here. Why not send all that money directly to our missionaries instead? Or why not invest it directly in local community outreach? Should we be really be investing so much money in a building? Buildings don’t last, but people do.

This is an important question. As Elders, we love this way of asking the question, because it demonstrates a Christ-like passion for reaching people with the gospel.

We are persuaded it is indeed right for us as a church to make a substantial financial investment in our facilities at this point in the life of PCF. What we want to do here is offer a few thoughts on how to approach this question of why we should invest in a building, and also how to keep a building in its proper place.

(1) Let’s not pit the material against the spiritual

In asking the question, ‘Why invest in a building?’ let’s be careful not to pit the material against the spiritual, as though investing in material things (like buildings) is necessarily inferior to investing in spiritual goals. In truth, the two are deeply intertwined, because as human beings, we are both physical and spiritual creatures. Christians do not believe that materiality is inherently evil, because we know that the Lord Jesus himself had a body and that one day he’ll give us perfect resurrection bodies. Sending all that money to missionaries may sound like a more ‘spiritual’ use of the money, but when you visit missionaries on the field, you realize that many of their support dollars are actually spent on material, physical realities such as building maintenance, paying staff, and airfare back and forth from the States. This is as it should be. Missionaries themselves rightly realize we shouldn’t pit the material against the spiritual.

(2) Let’s not pit the local against the overseas

In asking the question, ‘Why invest in a building?’ we should also be careful not to pit our facilities improvement against our deep desire to reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus. It doesn’t need to be an either-or option, because God can supply us with enough resources to improve our facilities and increase our giving to both local and overseas missionaries. In fact, to the extent that our renewed facilities help us achieve our mission of reaching and discipling more people, we will increase our ability over the long term to give sacrificially for the cause of local and global outreach efforts.

(3) Let’s think of the building as a ministry tool

The way to keep a building in its proper place is to invest in a building in order to fulfill our mission, and to keep on reminding ourselves that the building is simply one means (among others) of achieving our mission. We disciple and train and equip all our members in order to fulfill our mission. We run certain events (like Christianity Explored, or marriage retreats) in order to fulfill our mission. We hire staff in order to fulfill our mission. And we also invest in our facilities in order to fulfill our mission. The building is simply one means of achieving our mission – nothing more, nothing less. The building is important insofar as it helps us fulfill the mission God has given us. We thank God for our building, and the opportunity to improve it. But the building is not central or most important. It’s a useful ministry tool.

Because the building is a tool for achieving our mission, we choose as a church not to spend unnecessarily on it. We’ll pursue quality construction and an attractive design, but nothing splashy, unnecessary, or exorbitant. Our goal is not to produce a building that becomes an eye-catching conversation piece. We see the building as a valuable ministry tool. Good workmen keep their tools in good shape. Our current front building is in terrible shape. Seeing the building as a ministry tool encourages us to improve our facilities, much as a carpenter keeps his saw blades sharpened and his level accurate.

One of the best ways to keep the building in its proper place is to keep on continuously clarifying in our own minds and hearts how each element of the building specifically fulfills our mission and vision. Doing so keeps us focused mainly on the mission and vision, not on the building. Here are just a few of the links we should be regularly drawing between the building and our mission/vision:

  • Mission aim: ‘Be a Jesus-centered community.’ The building project allows us to expand the current sanctuary and return to one service. What a precious gain! We can all be together again as a church family on Sunday mornings.
  • Mission aim: ‘Speaking gospel words and doing gospel works.’ In order to be empowered by the gospel, we must know the gospel and be thoroughly discipled in it. The building project secures more and better classroom space for us, allowing us to grow in God’s Word as a congregation.
  • Vision aim: ‘Ten years from now, the gospel will be central to the life of PCF and PCF will be central to the life of Pepperell and surrounding communities.’ Right now, many people in our community don’t even know we’re here! Our front building hides us from the very community we aim to reach. Constructing a small steeple on the front building will help people know we’re here. Making our buildings more attractive will also help us become more welcoming to visitors. Our front building is currently an unsightly turn-off and obstacle to visitors. Moreover, it’s difficult for visitors to figure out where to go and how to find the sanctuary when they arrive from our back parking lot. Building a clear side entrance that opens into an inviting lobby between the two buildings will help us to become much more welcoming to the visitors God brings our way.

(4) Let’s think of the building as a launch pad

When working together to pay for and construct a building, it’s really important that we not fall into the mistake of believing that all or even most of our ministry happens in the building itself. We should think of our building as a launch pad. God calls us to be 24/7 Christians, on mission with him every moment of our lives: in our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces. We are to be ordinary Christians doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality. An enormous amount of our evangelism and discipleship and community life is to be lived out in the everyday places of our lives, not in the church facility, because all of our lives belong to God, not just certain times of the week, like Sunday morning. The gathered Sunday morning worship, and the crucial teaching and discipling and training and equipping that occurs in the building during the week, are all intended to prepare us for mission, which happens all the rest of the week, when we’re not here at the building. Let’s see this building as a launch pad. It’s not the only place where ministry happens. In fact, it’s preparing us for the ministry to which God calls us all the rest of the week. A launch pad may seem like a humble and relatively unexciting thing, compared to the fast and fiery rocket that leaves it headed for space. But NASA knows that without a safe, secure, well-maintained launch pad, it can’t conduct its missions effectively.

God says in Isaiah 45.22-23, ‘Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue swear allegiance.”’

There is nothing in the world as exciting and as valuable as the worth of God! Our prayer as Elders is that together as a congregation we’ll embrace our building project and give generously to it, so that together we can advance in our ability to display this worth to the world.