Unless the Lord Builds the House…
So there was a little girl who went to her mom. And she said, “Mommy I’m just curious, where do people come from?” And the mother said to her daughter, “well honey back a long long time ago God made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden and then they started having babies, and they had babies. And so the whole human race came from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.”
She thought about that for a while. And she asked her dad what he thought. She went to her dad and said, “Daddy, where did the human race come from? Where did all the people come from?” And he said, “Well a long long time ago there were primates, there were apes and monkeys and human beings eventually evolved from those other kinds of apes. And that’s where all human beings came from.”
She was really confused now. And so she went back to her mommy. She said, “Mommy I don’t understand. You told me about Adam and Eve and that God made them and put them in the garden and they had babies and that’s where everybody came from. And Daddy said, well no there were apes and everybody came from them. Mommy why do you have different answers?”
And the mother turned to her daughter and said, “Well honey your daddy was talking about his side of the family. I was talking about my side.”
That actually has nothing to do with the sermon this morning. But I thought that it was kind of a funny joke I heard this week and wanted to share it with you.
This morning I want to conclude my series of sermons entitled Building…a Church for Life. This is an extremely important day in the life of our congregation. Today after many months of prayer, study, hard work, feedback, and discussion, we will hold our church conference and vote on our proposed plan for our renovation and expansion project.
As we have approached this important day I felt it vitally important for us to rethink and refocus on what it means for us to be the church. In the series I have asked some very important questions: What is the church? Why does it exist? Why is it important? Why does it even matter? Why do we exist? What is our purpose? What did Jesus want from His people? What difference does the church make in the world? And finally truly what does it mean for us to build a church for life? Because the reality is that if a church doesn’t have that figured out and settled then all of the buildings and all of the other outward and external things don’t even matter.
So let me just quickly recap where we have been. In week 1 I shared with you that I believe when we are building a church for life we are building a church that gathers people together to prepare them to go back out into the world and to pursue His mission in the world. In other words the church is a verb. We are the hands, feet and voice of Christ in the world. This means going into the world seeking to do justice, seeking to care for those who are hungry and those who are hurting and those who are in need. We are seeking to build a church may truly embody the mission of Christ and be bearers of His light in the world.
In week 2 I shared with you that I believe when we are building a church for life we are building a church of open doors. Jesus welcomed the social outcast, the pariahs, the people that were considered sinners and tax collectors. The gospel is for sick people – and we’re all sick. It’s for broken people – and we are all broken. The gospel is for all of us. So we must remember that and follow Jesus’ example and model a community that welcomes all people and loves all people, just as He did.
Then last week my message to you was that when we are building a church for life we are building a church that is a true community in Christ. ‘Church’ is not for perfect people—there aren’t any. We must strive to be a church that is a family of friends who bless, care for, encourage, sustain, forgive, and love one another. We must learn to give and to receive grace from one another, and be willing to demonstrate sacrificial love (agape), sharing (koinonia) and family caring (philadelphia).”
This morning I want to conclude this series and my message is very simple. And my theme and my title is taken from the first verse of the psalm you heard read a few moments ago; Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”
So I’d like to begin by sort of setting a way of thinking about church buildings or sanctuaries. Today we are going to talk about plans to renovate and expand our building and improve our facilities and I want to help us think about this because as a pastor I’ve tried to teach you that the church is not a building. In fact I’ve told you many times if the building burns down and the preacher leaves town what you have left is the church. And I really believe that. The church is a community of people who put their trust in Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him and live out that faith in the world. They strengthen one another. They encourage on another. Worship together. Grow together. And live in mission in the world together. And so this is the church.
And so it’s easy for us to say well buildings really aren’t that important. In fact maybe they’re not important at all. And what I want to say is that at this juncture I want you to understand that I think that they actually are important.
Why? Because facilities facilitate. Our building is a tool. And while it is only one of the tools that we use as we seek to engage the world around us for Christ, it is an extremely important and powerful one. While it is true that the church is not this building where we are sitting this morning, it is the people that are the church, this building is a magnificent resource that enables us to do His work in the world. If something happened tomorrow and this building was gone, Sterling UMC would not cease to exist. But our ability to do what he calls us to do would be seriously damaged.
The church is about people. It is about people who may not be able to hear the message that the church has to offer if we don’t provide a place, a building that is open, welcoming, inviting, hospitable, safe, and conducive to enable them to hear that life-changing message. It’s about people who need spaces to gather together in order to find the encouragement and hope they so desperately seek for the difficult journey that is life. It’s about people with desperate needs of spirit, body and mind who we may not be able to help without the space to bring them in, to gather and store the items and supplies that enable us to meet their needs.
When we build buildings they’re meant to be our sanctuaries or places where we come to meet God. Where we come to dedicate our children to God. Where we come to grow in our faith. Where we come to hear God’s Word. Where we come to praise God and give thanks to God. Where we come before God when we are broken. Where we come and ask for forgiveness when we we’ve sinned. We come and plead with God at times where we feel there’s no hope. All of these things and so much more happen when we gather here. We confirm our children in the church. We’re married. The most significant moments of our lives; we come as we are being joined together as husband and wife in the church. And on that day when we’ve breathed our last our casket is brought into the church and we celebrate our lives in that place.
And so as we think about this, buildings are important. They matter to us. And we figured that out here at Sterling a long time ago.
Are you aware of how we got to where we are today? In the late 1970's our congregation was worshiping at the small white church on the other end of Church Road. The congregation had been worshiping in that church since 1898 when that facility had been built to replace a previous building that was lost in a fire. Some forward thinking leaders identified the need to look into the future and dared to dream and envision expansion beyond what the old church building could accommodate. A decision was made to build a new modern church building on our current property. In 1983 construction was completed on the 2-story wing of our current church building. In short order the congregation outgrew that space, and the need for a second construction phase was determined. In 1992 the church again dared to dream and a second ambitious building project was completed including our current sanctuary and our classroom wing surrounding the church courtyard.
Fast forward to today. We have restructured our church government to empower our laity and to embolden our ministries. We are more engaged in mission locally and around the world than ever before. We have deepened our spiritual growth by adding numerous short-term and ongoing study opportunities. We have broadened our fellowship with one another through meals, activities, social groups, circles and church-wide events. We have diversified our worship offerings to reach out to various communities with different worship styles, and even languages. We have opened our door to the community through multiple active and intentional outreach efforts. We have committed ourselves to an intentional ministry to our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters. We have opened our facility to community groups such as boy scouts, girl scouts, and English classes, addiction recovery groups and more.
Things are going well. We are having a great time. We’ve got exciting things happening; we’re growing. We are making a difference in mission and ministry in ways we never imagined just eight or nine years ago. And the results have been dramatic. But that has also had a dramatic impact on our building. Our building is being taxed like never before. And in many areas it is not able to keep pace with our current ministries load.
And as we look ahead our plans and dreams for our future are even bigger. This year alone we have just launched a Grace Ministries site here at SUMC, offering food and other necessities to people in need in our own community on a monthly basis. We kicked off a Spanish language worship service, further taxing our Sanctuary. We want to continue to grow and expand our children’s and youth ministries, and provide even more opportunities for our adults to engage in discipleship and fellowship opportunities.
Has there been an impact? Absolutely! Our facility is busier than ever. But there is a cost. And what is that cost? Our building is not able to keep pace with our ministries, our dreams and our goals. It is beginning to show its age and signs of wear and tear everywhere you look. Because we are so heavily invested in our ministry posture (as we should be), we have made do. We have doubled up offices, accepted long lines outside the women’s restrooms at peak usage times, like we did when we had 400 members of our community in our building for a memorial service a week ago. We have kept re-stretching the sanctuary carpet, we have “grinned and beared it” when trying to serve 150 seniors out of our ill-suited kitchen. We struggle to find enough classrooms for our children’s Sunday school classes. We are often having to juggle meetings and other gatherings because of the lack of larger meeting rooms. I often see people looking up to see if the lights are turned on in the shadows of our poorly lit narthex and sanctuary. We have used stopgap measures like off-site storage units to hold our ministry resources. Our KUC preschool, VBS, and summer camp have had to turn children and families away because there is no more space. And yes, we have had to turn away ministry opportunities.
That is why we have proposed this plan. We believe the concept presented here represents a very necessary yet a very prudent and responsible plan that will enable our church to continue to be vital and effective in ministry now and into the future. It gives us the expanded restrooms. An enlarged and more functional kitchen. It consolidates our office spaces increasing flow and efficiency while opening up and adding on additional classroom and meeting space and storage. It centralizes our preschool activities providing more space and more importantly enhanced safety and security for these little ones and their parents. It gives our sanctuary and narthex a much need facelift. In short it provides the tools we need to facilitate ministry now and positions us for continued growth into the future.
And what I’d like to invite you to consider is this: we have plenty of visions. We have plenty of dreams and ideas, but that only increases the importance of the tool that we have to accomplish those things.
So I want to begin to wrap this up by asking some questions that a number of you have asked, and they all have to do with money. The first question we’ve been asked is how much will it cost? And that’s a really great question. And most of you should know the answer to that question by now from all of the information that has been distributed and discussed over the last several months and through our town hall meetings. The cost of this project is $2 Million. And you say $2 Million, that’s a lot of money. And yes it is a lot of money. And that always leads to the next two questions: How in the world could we ever raise that amount of money? And should we spend that much money on the building?
So I want to answer the “should we” question in a moment. But first can we? Is it possible? And what we know is from the Feasibility Study that we recently completed with the help of a professional church fund-raising consultant we should be well within reach of attaining our pledge goal of between $1.5 – 2 Million dollars in a capital campaign. Another metric that the consultant uses is that in their experience churches are able to raise on the low end 3 times their operating budget for capital campaign expenses. With an annual budget of just over $800,000 our $2 Million goal is well within reach. So yes we can. And when you factor in God we know that all things are possible!
Which leads to the question should we do it if we can do it? Just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should. And I’ve laid out all the missional reasons why I think this matters. But the question that comes up, and rightly so is that there are people who are poor and in need here in Sterling, and we care very much about missions here at Sterling, how could we justify spending that amount of money? Wouldn’t that money be better served going to other places?
So I want to mention just two brief answers to that. First of all a large number of the large gifts would not have gone into our regular operating budget to go towards these mission projects anyway. So for many these gifts will have come from funds that may have gone to their universities or some other cause or charity, but instead are going into an investment in this place. Here’s what I believe, here’s what I know: people give to buildings out of a different pocket. The money that we would be giving to build this building is money that would have gone somewhere else, at least for many of our leading donors. You see we are talking about second mile giving here. And we’re going to continue to invest in missions and ministry. That’s who we have become. That’s who we are. That’s what we are all about. That’s why we exist.
Secondly, here’s what I can tell you about missions and ministry. If we don’t invest in our facility, if we don’t give ourselves the tools we need to do mission and ministry what’s going to happen to our missions giving? What’s going to happen to our ability to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ? What’s going to happen to our ability to meet the needs of the poor and the hurting, the marginalized and those who are different from us that are becoming a growing part of our community around us? I believe we bounce off the glass ceiling and begin a steady decline in vitality.
So should we? I absolutely believe we need to do this. And God is calling us to do this. Because ultimately that is the question we must answer, is this God’s will. Unless God builds the house the labor is in vain.
How do you know God’s will? Well I have always believe that when you seek God’s will you look for the things that He is doing, you find the places where He is already at work and you get on board.
I believe it gives us the right tools; not just a bigger space or more space, it is the right space for what we need to do now and sets us up for continued growth in the future. And if we do this and we do it well this church for years from now will still be reaching, seeking, serving, caring, worshipping.
That’s how I see it as your senior pastor. If I didn’t have to run a capital campaign or think about building a new building I promise you that I would sleep better and I’d be happier. And I’ve got to tell you I feel the weight of it pressing on my chest. Except the thing that I care more about is what does the future of this church look like and what it is going to be like 20 years from now. And I think this matters for that. And so I’m inviting you to be part of this process.
For you see this is not about us. It’s about Him. This is the Lord’s work. He is working in us building a church for life.
A church that gathers people together to prepare them to go back out into the world and to pursue His mission in the world.
A Church of open doors that welcomes all people and loves all people, just as Jesus did.
A Church that is a community united in a spirit of communion, with unconditional and brotherly love.
A Church that uses its physical space as a tool that enables us to engage people: Children, youth, and adults, people that look like us, people who don’t look like us. People who talk like us and people who don’t talk like us. People who’s names you know and others you have not yet come to know. People who need to be reached and who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. People who may not be able to hear the message that we the church have to offer if we don’t provide spaces for them to gather, to laugh together, to cry together, to worship, to study and pray together, to meet together, and to eat together, to use a restroom that is adequate without having to wait in line.
The church is about people, a people who are still alive and vital 20 years from now because you and I were willing to imagine and to dream and to invest our resources and join the Lord in what He is building. And if we do that then our labor will not have been in vain. And that is a vision that makes me excited as I look ahead at the next 20 years. And I hope it makes you excited too.
So I’d like for us to just pray about this right now. And I’d like to invite you to bow your heads with me right now.
And Lord we give you thanks and praise for what you have done in and through this church over the course of our history, especially over these last 10 years. It’s been awesome to watch. To see lives changed, and hearts touched, and people reached and served because what you have done here at Sterling United Methodist Church. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of it. Thank you! And we believe that our work is not finished. And that our best years are all ahead of us and not behind us. I pray for our congregation that you would give us vision to see what You want to do. This is what those you have entrusted to serve us believes you want us to do. I pray that you would help our congregation catch the vision. And then give us the boldness and the courage and the sacrificial heart for us to be able to pursue that vision and that we might be used by you for generations to come to reach people whose names we don’t yet know. Thank you O God we love you and praise you. In your holy name. Amen.