Publication: Pastoral Letter, May 2000
Dear Friend in Christ:
Spring and Summer are seasons of construction…houses, highways, and high-rises flourish as plans are put into effect in the favorable weather. It is a good time to build.
I am fascinated by the human spirit and its motivation to build things. I believe it is because we are created in God’s image and God is a builder. One cannot seriously look at creation without being struck by the mind behind it. From the microcosmic to macrocosmic, there is overwhelming evidence of a creative mind and a builder’s heart. What an intricate and infinite structure He has built!
The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “Every house is built by someone and the Builder of all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4). Buildings do not just happen – they are built. God has given us resources and raw materials; but buildings must be built by those who have a heart to build.
Philosophies and ideologies have no real power until they fall into the hands of a builder. Whether the ideas are “good” or “evil” matters little or none at all, until a builder brings them to reality. Then ideas become functional structures and affect the lives of many people.
Jesus was more than a philosopher, teacher, or even preacher; He was a builder. He said, “I will build My Church.” Noah was a builder, and so was virtually every other biblical leader. They built families, nations, the temple, cities, and churches; they were builders.
THE BUILDER’S HEART
David said to Solomon, “It was in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord My God” (1 Chronicles 22:7). We know that God did not allow David to build the temple because he had been a man of war. But he did give David the plan, the material, and the skilled labor to build it. And he gave David a son, Solomon, who would build it. Later, Solomon recalled something more that God said to his father: “Because it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well in that it was in your heart” (2 Chronicles 6:8). God approved of David’s desire to build, and that he had a builder’s heart.
David not only wanted to build a house for God, he wanted to build a house that would be magnificent, famous, and glorious throughout the world (1 Chronicles 22:5). Great builders want to build great buildings that will be a testimony to their beliefs and ideas. David’s belief was in Jehovah, and he wanted the world to know His God.
Many years ago, I was asked to address the National Association of Church Architects, even though at that time I was the pastor of a church that did not have a building! We were meeting in homes. I protested that I could not address such a group, because we had no building. “So, come and tell us why you do not have a building,” the representative suggested. So I did. It was a very interesting meeting and they were surprisingly open to my ideas on how buildings reflected our philosophy of the Church. These men loved the Church also, but were working with different kinds of stones, bricks, and mortar. My focus was on the living stones. Our church later built several beautiful and functional worship facilities to the glory of God.
THE BUILDER’S TASK
We are all called to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. All of our gifts are for the building up of the Church. Our conversation ought to build up one another (see 1 Corinthians 12:7 and 1 Corinthians 14:12). Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip the saints to build up the Church (see Ephesians 4:10-16). Let me make a few observations about our task as builders:
- We are building the Lord’s House_not ours. We are serving His will and His plan; it is His Church.
- We need a biblical vision of the Church, as Noah had of the Ark, or as Moses had of the Tabernacle, or as David had of the Temple.
- We must communicate the vision and inspire workers. No builder can do great things alone.
- We must look for and gather resources_abundantly, if we are going to build anything outstanding for His name.
- We have a pattern given to us in the Scriptures, for building the Lord’s Church. We should follow it.
- Builders need to work in an atmosphere of peace and not war. We must avoid unnecessary strife.
- We must stay focused and not be distracted by opposition or useless talk (see Nehemiah 6:3). It is important for us to see the plan, to believe in the final result, and to love the work and the Lord of the House. It is all for Him. When we lose that motivation, the House becomes something less.
Nineteen different architects worked over the course of more than 500 years in the completion of Westminster Abbey. They all stayed with the original plan…they were faithful. Though they did not know one another, they shared a common faith that bound them together in a common task. Most of us will not know very many of God’s builders, but we do share a common blueprint in the New Testament, and a common love for Christ and His Church. We are continuing a great work begun by generations of faithful men and women. Many were faithful unto death.
THE BUILDER’S QUALITIES
I love the book of Nehemiah. I would encourage a fresh study of it to understand this great man and how he reflects God’s call to build. Here are some shared qualities of those who rise up to build:
- A burden for God’s House and its condition
- A love for the people of God
- A desire to serve a cause above themselves
- A vision of what can be
- A belief that God will provide resources
- A strategic “can do” attitude that doesn’t take “no” for an answer
- An ability to enthuse others with their faith.
My father was a pastor for 60 years, and he was a builder. I remember going with him to mission stations in the bayou country of south Louisiana when I was three and four years old. Often, he rowed a boat to a remote settlement inaccessible by car. I remember the congregation building a church building in such a location where materials had to be hauled in by boat.
Later, we moved to south Alabama, where he pastored a small church that seated perhaps one hundred and twenty people. He led that church to build several buildings, and one of them was a beautiful Gothic stone auditorium. When he first presented the plan, a member said, “Preacher, we will never build that church, and if we ever do, you won’t be here to preach in it!”
She meant no insult. It was just beyond her mindset and faith. Dad responded, “We will build it; I will preach in it; and I will look at you and tell you, ‘I told you so.’” They both laughed. But they did build, and that building was followed by others.
Church buildings can be very useful and practical, but they reflect something much greater, and that is a body of believers that is being built up to the glory of God. Ironically, some churches split over buildings. Others go through a period of “let down” after a building is completed. The issue is to stay focused on building people through the love of God, the Word of God and the power of God. The House of God is the people, the living stones. No physical building will be more glorious than the quality of living stones set into it (see Hebrews 2:4-10).
The Apostle Paul was a master builder who laid foundations for many great churches during his life, and for multitudes of churches that followed throughout the centuries. We cannot all be master builders, but we can all be builders. Indeed, we are called to it by our Lord.
I have known some great builders; some who built hundreds of churches, others who built some very large churches, and still others who simply worked on a building with their hammer and nails. One of my first jobs was working for a building contractor who built churches. He had built several very large churches.
I have also known some church “wreckers,” people who seemed to be fulfilled only when they were tearing down someone else’s labor. God warns those who attack the Church. It is His Body and He pledges to destroy those that would destroy His Church.
- Builders are always busy, but never busybodies.
- Builders turn errors into excellence.
- Builders gather resources, and use them for the task.
- Builders see a vision but love the process as well as the product.
- Builders are always watched, but they are never content to be mere watchers.
If you are building something (a family, a business, a building, or a professional practice) do it to the glory of God and enjoy your labors. If you are not building something to God’s glory…why not? And if you are in the process of tearing down something, be very careful; be sure that you can and will build something better (see Jeremiah 1:10).
May God give us all a builder’s heart and keep us from ever becoming destroyers.
Scripture References: Hebrews 3:4; 1 Chronicles 22:5,7; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12; Nehemiah 6:3