What's Tony Thinking

Got Gospel?


My last post reported on the challenge facing congregations related to their buildings. The building may be too large or too expensive to maintain for the current congregation. In that post, I highlighted the creative solutions to these challenges by some congregations, and I cited the work of one Minneapolis pastor who had carved out a ministry as a church flipper.

I have a follow-up thought or two.

While I think some of the creative responses to the building challenges that I noted in the previous blog are interesting, even exciting, congregations need to remain alert to the danger of “work avoidance.” Work avoidance happens when a congregation becomes obsessed about what to do about the building as a way of avoiding the deeper, and the real, questions. For example, “why are we here?” “what is the mission to which God calls us in this time and place?” and even, “what is the gospel?”

Remember the milk ads, “Got Milk?” Maybe we need to be asking of our churches, “Got Gospel?”

The central question for church revival or renewal is not about a building. It is, rather, a theological matter. What is our core faith and message? Is it rooted in the gospel? Is it healing, transforming and making a difference in people’s lives? Do we trust in a God who has acted and is at work in the world today? Is the Bible God’s “message” or just another book?

I worry that buildings — or something else that appears “urgent,” e.g. a contemporary political or culture wars issue — becoming a congregation’s focal concern in place of the good new of Jesus Christ and the essential saving truths of our faith. If we don’t have some real and compelling sense of the essentials everything else is a waste of time.

One of the reasons I liked the work of “church flipper” Paul Barzhan in Minneapolis was that he was the pastor of a flourishing congregation, and that when he “flipped” church buildings it wasn’t to turn them into condo’s or some other means of making a quick buck, it was to provide a home to another flourishing congregation.

So, my follow-up word to that previous blog is, “Yes, if your present building is a money-pit, and more a hindrance to your mission that an instrument of it, deal with it.” All that said, don’t substitute a fixation on your building for a Spirit-led and empowered sense of mission/ purpose. Beware “work avoidance.”

Too many congregations are dying not because of their building but because of their faith, or lack of same.

As Jesus put it, “If the salt has lost it’s savor (taste, zing, and usefulness) what good is it?”

Which leads to a reminder about our next webinar, starting next Monday October, which is based on Paul Zahl’s book Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life. Further information, including the link for (free) registration is at right.

Like our previous webinars on Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Emotional Sense and Help My Unbelief, this one is another exploration of the basics of the Christian faith and gospel. It is an attempt to light or rekindle the fire of faith.

As such, all these are aimed at what Paul says to his protege Timothy in this week’s epistle lesson, II Timothy 2: 1 – 14, “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you . . . for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and of self-discipline.” This is the essential challenge facing so many churches and their leaders. The building is important, but secondary.




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