Buildings, Bodies and Budgets
On his blog site “Heidelblog,” Dr. Robert Scott Clark (professor at Westminster Seminary, California) re-posted in late January a blog article entitled “The Killer Bs: Idols of the Minister’s Heart”. The “Bs” that Dr. Clark addresses are: Buildings, Bodies and Budgets. In other words: large attendance (lots of warm bodies filling the worship space!), large buildings (think of the typical megachurch “campus”), and a gigantic budget. While these things are not inherently evil (indeed, if viewed properly as a stewardship from God they can be a great blessing to God’s people), Dr. Clark points out (rightly, in my opinion) that these blessings can become a source of heart idolatry in the Minister’s heart.
“Is “idol” too strong an adjective? Well, challenge these reigning gods or dare to remove them from their pedestal and see what happens. Propose something that might affect adversely the building, bodies, or budget and see what becomes of the proposal.
“These are the things by which ministers often define themselves. These are the things they covet. These are the status symbols: a growing budget, increasing attendance, and a bigger building. These are the idols that shape the program-driven church. These are the gods that drive the liturgy and the gods that promise rewards to those who serve them faithfully.”
You can read the entire blog article here: http://heidelblog.net/2013/01/the-killer-bs-idols-of-the-ministers-heart-2/
I will add to Dr. Clark’s thought-provoking comments my conviction that these “Killer Bs” are not just a temptation to heart-idolatry within the Pastor’s breast. I believe that they can also be a source of temptation to heart idolatry for Christians in the church generally, and they can tend to distort our spiritual priorities in the church. Think of what often becomes a source of pride in the hearts of churchgoers. Think of parishioners who attend church at a stately and magnificent church edifice, and who take great pride in the grandeur of their church building (and like to point out that grandeur to others). Or think of the churchgoer who feels great pride in attending the “happening” mega-church in town with the swelling attendance, the “cool” praise band, the hip superstar celebrity pastor, the “on fire” youth group, and the multitude of “relevant” programs. In contrast to such contemporary pride, let your mind go back to the early Christian church living under the pagan (and often persecuting) Roman Empire. Think back to those early Christians who often met together, not in huge or stately assembly halls or large church buildings, but in the homes of fellow believers or even in catacombs (imagine meeting in a mausoleum for worship!), and sometimes meeting at the risk of their lives.
Let’s face it: When Christians in America are looking for a new church home, what is it that attracts many of them to a particular church? Often it is the “Killer Bs” — churches with lots of bodies, big buildings, and large budgets (not to mention tons of programs as well) — more than it is such things as sound doctrine, faithful preaching, reverent worship, the right administration of the sacraments, the willingness to exercise loving church discipline, mutual accountability and genuine shepherding (i.e., pastors and elders who seek to know well the “sheep” entrusted to their care as those who will have to give an account to Christ the Good Shepherd for those sheep – Hebrews 13:17).
In our increasingly secularized, postmodern times I believe we are seeing a trend toward smaller churches. While I am not a prophet, I suspect that in the next generation we will see overall shrinkage in the size and cultural “influence” of biblically-faithful churches, especially as biblical and historically confessional Christianity is increasingly marginalized and demonized. We may even begin to experience more overt forms of persecution. Biblical Christianity is already no longer within the cultural “mainstream,” and thus we find many Christian commentators bemoaning the church’s loss of cultural and moral influence within our society. Indeed, some speak or write in alarmist tones. If I am correct about this, then we in the church should not be surprised if the trend is toward smaller attendance (fewer bodies), smaller budgets, and thus smaller buildings. But if this becomes the trend, should we in the church necessarily view it as an evil? Certainly we long to see our churches filled with multitudes of redeemed and regenerated sinners, and we long to spread the spiritual influence of the gospel throughout our land (and throughout the world)! But perhaps before we in the church can regain any genuine spiritual “influence” for good we need to be pruned, humbled and refined. Perhaps the church’s current cultural marginalization and loss of cultural influence is a long-term blessing in disguise. Perhaps God may use the church’s current cultural disestablishment to work in us genuine spiritual renewal and to return us to more biblical priorities (like deepened repentance, mortification for sin, a greater dependence upon God for genuine growth in the church, a greater faithfulness and diligence in attending upon the means of grace, etc.). Perhaps God will use these current trends to root out the “Killer Bs,” not only from the hearts of those of us who are pastors, but also from the hearts of all of His people.