December 18, 2017

What Do We Build That Lasts?

Wally Morris

For a brief time in high school, I was the president of our local archeology club. I grew up in southern Georgia near the coast, an area of arrowheads, shark’s teeth, and colonial history. Just north of where I lived is St. Simons Island where John and Charles Wesley ministered to the soldiers and people of Fort Frederica. Today mostly in ruins, I have enjoyed visiting the fort several times.

The pyramids of Egypt, the ruins of Rome, Greece, and Persia, the ancient temples of Asia and Mexico all testify to great engineering skill. But what are they today? Tourist spots and some archeological activity. The people are gone, and the beauty is mostly gone.

Think of our churches. Are we building anything that will still be here in 100 years? The building may still be here, or it may not. Storms often do not skip churches in their destructive power. And if the building still exists, what kind of church exists within that building? The name may be the same, but do the people that assemble within that building still believe the gospel?

Ministry which lasts takes time to build, time which our modern world is impatient to wait for. My wife and I have lived in our community for almost 20 years. No other pastor in our town has been at the same church for this length of time. I have seen new churches start and grow quickly, always offering contemporary music, average preaching, and convenient schedules (i.e. no Sunday night activities). It’s easy to be envious of these churches until you look beneath the superficial surface and see what really happens in their ministry. Some of these churches are composed of disgruntled people who float from church to church and have very little understanding of and commitment to Biblical ministry. Many of these churches focus on entertainment with sophisticated musical programs which promote a spectator mentality.

As I was thinking about this, I wondered about our common assumptions about the duration of individual local churches. Is it failure if a particular church ceases to exist? Was there something “wrong” that contributed to the demise of a local church? This is certainly possible. But is it always true? I don’t think so.

Think of the first century churches in Ephesus, Philadelphia, Philippi, and other places. Where are those churches today? The buildings are gone, sometimes because of war, shifting population dynamics, or other reasons outside the control of the church. Many Christian churches in the Middle East no longer exist because, centuries ago, Islam forced the churches to close and the people to leave. Something similar is happening in Iraq today.

As we have heard many times, the church is more than a building—It’s the people. Ministry which lasts focuses on the people, making disciples of people. The specific physical structure may not exist, but the people do. Ministry which lasts must focus on building people for the glory of God, whether or not our physical buildings are still here in 50 years.

Even though a physical structure may close, the people are still here. How is that? First, those believers are now with the Lord. Second, those believers led people to the Lord who, in turn, led people to the Lord, who also led people to the Lord (2 Tim. 2:2). This process continued and continues through each succeeding generation until our present time. The ministry of those believers goes on even though they are not here nor their specific physical buildings. I find it fascinating that Christian belief and the gospel are still active and powerful today even though not a single Christian who was alive 150 years ago is still alive today. The gospel has been passed to new generations, saving people and transforming lives even though the physical buildings are often not here any longer.

The physical structures of our ministry are tools to use for the gospel. But the physical structures are not what is most important. People transformed by the gospel are most important. If we want to build something that will last, our effort must focus on people. The souls of people will last forever. The best of buildings will not.

Wally Morris is the pastor of Charity Baptist Church, Huntington, IN, and blogs at A Moment of Charity.

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