Could a Physical Church Building Become an Obstacle in Our Efforts to Connect With God?
A popular novel by Jaye Frances describes the secret location of “the kind of church God would build”
A reader of my recent article, My Niece’s Final Words from Her Death Bed Taught Me All I Need to Know About Religion, left a comment that touched me both emotionally and logically. That doesn’t happen often.
Here’s what he wrote:
“Why can’t the church be in your head? Why do you have to go to a church? Shouldn’t you be able to pray anywhere you are? If God listens to you, does it make a difference if you’re in church or at home, (or) outside?”
When most of us think of a “church,” we tend to think of an ornately-designed building with soaring ceilings and huge windows of stained glass. Some of these buildings stand as architectural wonders, while others are ostentatious white elephants, so thermally inefficient as to require their own electric substation to power the air conditioning.
But a building is not the Church.
At least not in the way the Church is biblically described. The generally accepted definition of the word “Church” is “those who are called out, the assembled believers.”
How many does it take to create a Church?
“For where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
The Scripture makes it clear the specific location of WHERE Church members gather is not important. Rather it’s all about the purpose and intent.
I’ve attended worship services under the trees of an old-growth forest. I’ve listened to sermons delivered from a grassy bluff overlooking the ocean. And I’ve sat on the front porch of a parishioner’s home while a visiting pastor preached a lesson from the Good Book.
Was it the same experience as attending a conventional service inside a dedicated “church building?”
No. It was better.
I found myself purposely concentrating on the sermon despite the distractions of everything going on around me. And I knew the most important component of the service — the Church members — were there, with no one needing the formal setting of a building decorated with religious trappings to properly participate in worship.
So when I read the comment, it sparked an old memory.
There is a description of a “church” in one of the books written by Jaye Frances, titled The Kure. It’s a place one of her characters called, “the kind of Church God would build.”
With permission from Jaye Frances, here’s the description as taken from The Kure:”
“It had always been one of John’s favorite spots. With enough sun filtering through the canopy to brighten the leafy floor and a small stream running its clear, frothy fingers through clusters of scrub oak and white pine, the wooded knoll was a natural sanctuary — the kind of church God would build. John especially liked the view, being able to see the land gently slope to a distant grassy meadow dotted with old cottonwoods and maples — where today, their dry, withered leaves painted the landscape red and gold as they fluttered in the breeze.” — From The Kure by Jaye Frances — full excerpt Here)
Since reading the book, I’d always wondered if such a place actually existed or if it was constructed from the author’s imagination. With my curiosity reignited by the comment, I emailed Jaye Frances and asked her, “Is there such a place?”
She responded, assuring me that there was, and that she’d personally visited it on several occasions.
I immediately emailed Jaye back, asking, “Where is it?”
That’s when she told me she couldn’t reveal the exact location.
“But why?” I asked. “Is the land private, fenced, or otherwise inaccessible?”
“No, just the opposite,” she replied. “It’s completely unprotected.”
And as it turned out, her reluctance to disclose the actual location of “the kind of Church God would build” was motivated by the need to protect the delicate nature of the area.
“While the land is state-owned and managed,” she wrote, “the area is vulnerable to the detrimental effects of foot traffic, campers, and day-trippers. There are no gates, fences, or other barriers to control those who fail to recognize their responsibility to respect and conserve the incredible beauty of the place.”
“There’s a single sign informing visitors the area is closed after 8:00 pm,” Jaye added, “but there’s no one on-site to enforce the restriction.”
Hoping to ease my disappointment, she emailed me a dozen pictures. And those are what illustrate this article — a few of the photos she’s taken over the years when she visits one of her favorite places.
Does it look like a place you’d enjoy attending Church services?
Yeah, me too. Personally, I’d jump at the chance.
Moved by the sheer beauty of the place, I began to wonder if the conventional buildings we usually associate with religious worship are more of a detriment than an advantage. And it prompted a question:
Could a physical building become an obstacle in our efforts to connect with God?
I realize the question is subjective and everyone will answer it differently. So please understand that I’m speaking only for myself.
I know some folks need isolation from the rest of the world to participate in worship services. They need to hear the strains of the choir and the swell of the organ. They need to feel as if God has reserved seating somewhere between the drywall and the ceiling support beams, believing He’s more likely to show up inside a building dedicated to formal worship than a place within His creation.
And that’s fine. If that’s what someone needs to satisfy their expectations of what and where a worship service is “supposed” to be, then I hope they continue to be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
But for many, “church” has become a social event, a gathering of the elite, coming together to confirm their superiority and right to pass judgment on others. (And yes, I’m basing my opinion on personal experience.)
Churches have also become big business, demonstrated not only by the size and grandness of their “houses of worship,” but by the need to establish a greater presence in the secular world.
With constant solicitation of donations to pay for youth centers, recreation facilities, day-care, and in-house television broadcast stations — all expenditures made under the guise of getting more souls to heaven — a seven-figure annual budget for a large congregation is not uncommon. (Add another couple of zeros if you include the congregations that provide their pastors with private jets).
And yet, regardless of how such expenditures are rationalized, the soaring bell towers, stained glass, and imported marble altars have never increased my confidence that I’m on the straight-and-narrow road leading to the kingdom of heaven.
For me, worshiping God in the midst of His creation is a great equalizer.
There’s far less motivation to show off expensive clothes or jewelry. And the year and make of the car you leave in the parking lot aren’t relevant.
And that makes the “WHERE” I receive God’s Word far less important than the content of the lesson and the purity of the pastor’s heart leading the service.
I’ll leave you with this . . .
So many of us are looking for a connection to something larger than ourselves. We need a source of comfort and hope. We search for the promise of a better life in the hereafter.
Earthly sanctuaries provide a place to calm our fears and give us a sense of peace — not only for ourselves, but for those we love. Hopefully, in the process, we can find opportunities to regain our perspective and restore our faith.
You may find your sanctuary on a mountain top or while sitting in the pew of a majestic cathedral. It’s your choice. You can follow the path made by others or choose one you forge yourself.
In either case, I hope you find your own version of the kind of Church God would build.
Thanks for reading,
Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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