"Ah, such a beautiful building! What happy, smiling people! There are so many! This church does so much for the community! Your pastor is such a dynamic speaker! I really like the way you make it easy to get from the parking lot to the sanctuary. I just can't say enough about your church!"
What's wrong with the above string of praises? On the surface, nothing. Compliments on a church facility or the people or the pastor or the charity work... those are fine. Where the problem lies is in the response of the church. Does the church accept those comments as praise heaped upon them or as praise for the One who deserves it? Deeper still, does the church exist to draw comments like the above paragraph? Are we looking to glorify the local church? Are we rejoicing in glorifying our pastor or our denomination? Are we trying to glorify ourselves? Or is our church doing ministry so that the world "may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven"? There are far too many churches who seek to glorify themselves first and foremost. They brag about their denomination and show off their celebrity pastor. And somewhere in the process the glory due to God gets waylayed. Sidetracked. Stolen.
One of the most basic excuses is that anytime the church is lauded, so is God. And to a certain extent there is some truth to this. But as with most everything in our lives, God is more interested in the condition of our hearts rather than the justification slathered on afterward. So you've built a $15 million facility. Is it for God's glory or for your own comfort? Be careful with the answer because God knows what's in your heart.
Is God more glorified in a huge cathedral or a school gymnasium? Does a huge and beautiful facility really reveal God's character? What about a hut made of sticks in the jungles of South America? Why do we get so caught up in having a nice church campus? First, because some people won't bother to come hear if the building isn't comfortable -- trying to please the world. I've wrestled with this whole issue previously. Certainly there is a need to keep a person from being physically uncomfortable, but too many churches cross the line into luxury and opulence.
The second reason we want the church to be nice is because it is for us. Just as we attempt to make improvements in our houses and try to have the latest, fastest technology, and strive to make everything as easy as possible in our lives, we take that same mindset and try to squeeze the church into it as well.
Third, we want things to look good so that others will be impressed by them. Let's be honest about things, we enjoy having people talk about our wonderful facilities. The sanctuary or the gym are bragging points. But it's more than just the facilities. We want the most entertaining music, the most charismatic pastor, the fastest-growing denomination or church. We take pride in our blessings rather than in our Blesser. We gladly accept the praise of man for ourselves in our finest Pharisaic style.
The dangers of stealing God's glory are not readily apparent unless your are looking at the situation spiritually. It all seems right to have the best... to keep up with the Jones' church and maybe a little better. It seems normal to take pride in the "selling points" of one's denomination or pastor or church, but the church exists to enable His people to give Him the praise and worship and honor and glory which He and He alone so richly deserves. If we steal His glory, our heart is in the wrong place. It's not supposed to be about us. It's about Him. And if our boasting is in anything other than Christ Jesus, we are taking the glory which so rightly belongs to God.
May the words of the Apostle Paul be the prayer of each and every person within a church and within the Church:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Up next: The Business of Church.