Thursday, December 08, 2005

Brick and Mortar

As I toured the campus I was impressed with the complex. This national institution has been around for many years and has significant funding. As I spoke to the chapel of 1,000 students it is clear that the vision of the founder is unquestioned and I have nothing but admiration for this brother who has made a significant contribution for the Kingdom. On closer inspection of the premises it was apparent that perhaps the vision is maybe a bit of overkill as many of the massive structures are underused. But, this brother keeps building because people from the West are enamored with construction and continue to fund an already impressive ministry.

There’s something uniquely human about the need to build edifices. From the days of the Tower of Babel, Pharaoh’s pyramids to Saddam’s many presidential palaces, we seem to have a lust for building monuments to ourselves. The Church has always had a love affair with brick and mortar as it something people can see and touch. One of the motivations for buildings, as Gluckman wrote about 40 years ago (Politics, law and ritual in tribal society) is because of status… “Particular kinds of property are valued in terms of their roles in status relations.” Whether it is the car we drive, the house we live in or the church we attend, our worth is derived from property status.

There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with property as long as it is balanced. There is, however, something unseemly about conspicuous production. In some cases production is about power and the desire to move upward in community status. Envy is another motivation for property. Dominated by the “market,” people around the world labor to lift their status and keep up with the Jones’s or the Jain’s. Sometimes the Church also tears down barns to build bigger barns motivated by envy and to maintain a presence of status, either in their communities or among their peers.

A pastor friend of mine was in the process of a one million dollar capital campaign but confided in me, “I’m uneasy about this project. We need some more classroom space, but our church really isn’t growing and I wonder if it is really wise to go into this kind of a debt just to have a new facility?” He eventually compromised and built for the congregation’s need, not its wants.

The fine balance between use-value of property and symbol-value is an interesting study. Since the erection of monuments has been around since time began it’s not something that is going pass away, until, of course, time itself passes.


Tom Franklin said...

"Brick and Mortar" - excellent post - and Blue Passport is a excellent Blog. Building is addicting - where ever and the key like you state is balance. Some have it and some don't. Monuments turn into museums and both of these edifus's are great for looking at the past but ministry is about the present and future. May more build with use-value in mind and invest the rest into church planting - this will produce more rewards than can be imagined.

Anonymous said...

I found your site through africa bleu's blog, which I happened upon some time ago. The rambling point being: I think I am in awe of you and your family. Having come from a troubled childhood, you personify everything I wish I had in a family, and what I wish to give to my own childen. Though I fall short most days, I thank you for giving me a landmark to shoot for. Bless you.

RG Lewis said...


What a kind and humbling comment. Thanks. As you well know the obvious, our family is far from perfect, but we have a unique bond that even our extended family recognizes. Honestly, I always thought I was a lousy dad and so if there is any credit it goes to my wife and to God’s wonderful grace. As with Christ, the wounded healer, those like you who have been wounded usually do a better job than those who have caused the wounds. God bless.

Tom - You’re right, building is addicting. I like your website. I think I need help on mine.