The physical church is a matter that’s spoken very little of. Whether it was back in the time of Jesus’ ministry or now, the ‘where’ of a church does not seem to matter so much as the ‘what’ and ‘how’. Jesus did not cherry pick the location to deliver his message, preaching outdoors, in people’s homes, and in temples; wherever people sought to hear his voice, he was there. The same lack of pickiness can be said of modern followers of Christ, who gather in churches of all shapes and sizes, ranging from mega-churches to underground churches. Some churches even rent buildings, reserving the space only on Sundays or whenever else it is needed.
This last part is what I want to talk about in today’s blog post: the practice of churches’ permanent renting. Now, I understand that there are several very reasonable points that might be raised in support of renting church spaces. There is obviously the fact that for some churches, renting is the best means of providing a space for worship under their financial state. Not every church has the financial bulwark of a mega-church, and can afford to have the luxury of building a church from ground up. Others might defend the lack of a structure entirely dedicated to the congregation when the church’s money has been used for other worthy purposes, such as supporting missionaries or funding outreach programs. Lastly, there is the fact that worship should be possible and powerful regardless of the condition of the environment—underground churches are evidence of that.
These arguments propose that members of a congregation can feel that their relationship with one another or with God has little if anything to do with the physical church. In other words, the church building is just a place they enter and leave within the two or three hour span of worship then fellowship. There is no significance as to where we end up worshipping; any place can become a house of God if His people gather in it.
But what I want to believe is that God wants us to be grounded in a physical place among our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bible shows that God yearns for His people to be attached to a place (the Promised Land) and for Himself to be a physical presence in the land. In 2 Samuel 7:4, God asks of David, “would you build me a house to dwell in?” a prophecy fulfilled through Solomon in 1 Kings chapters 7 and 8. In this passage, Solomon lifts up a prayer to the Lord upon completion of the temple, knowing very well that the temple was not something necessary or worthy to God. Nevertheless, Solomon prays that the temple may be the place that God watches over His people, turning His eyes and ears toward it when His people gather to cry out to Him. In Ezra, the Israelites return from their exile in Babylon and begin the reconstruction of the temple. When the builders lay the foundation of the temple again, the people as one cheer for the return to the Promised Land and the restoration of His temple.
There’s something powerful in that. For one, the fact that God would not only seek to find a place in our hearts and minds but also in our physical world. Second, the fact that God’s people as one could feel such great joy upon having a space to dedicate fully to God.
Because of this, I believe that there is a unique type of solidarity found in a congregation that yearns for and eventually build a permanent place of worship together. Here, when one enters, it’s not just into another building that the pastor and deacons rented with church funding, or a building that will soon transform back into an office or other type of space when Sunday is over. Here, he steps into a church built for God, by God’s will, through His people. A church that’s more than just a building, but one that is His and ours.