Picture the scene. A beautiful church, filled with 300 people and vibrant music. As the final chords are stuck, those gathered are moved by the beauty they encountered. It is a transcendent moment, and everyone gathered is in awe. It’s not a service, but a concert. The church partnered with a local choir and took nearly 20 per cent of the ticket price for this event to occur on their property. I wonder, is this a missed opportunity? How many like it go by and we don’t notice?
This all makes good sense. A congregation, struggling to keep up with the costs of their beloved building, must think of new ways to generate income. So, why not rent out our facilities to others who will use them? It makes perfect sense, until we consider the activity of Jesus in John 2. The story about Jesus clearing out commercial activity from the temple appears in all four gospels, so it must be important.
The whole story seems to involve a very angry Jesus, at first glance. In John’s narrative, the first thing Jesus does when he encounters the commercial activity in the temple is to sit down and do macrame! He braids and knots pieces of rope, fashioning a whip–a very slow process of weaving and knotting. This is methodical, not an outburst of anger. Jesus’ primary argument centres around the owner of the building and the intended use. In every gospel narrative Jesus affirms that the building belongs to God, for prayer, not to thieves, for their purposes. The problem today for the Church, as it was in the temple, is one of ownership and purpose. The church is not ours or for our wants and desires. It is God’s and it is for what He wants. In all our concern about maintenance, we might miss God’s mission for God’s house!
In many ways, the God-glorifying concert was right in line with the purpose of the building. I wonder what might have happened if the stewards of the building were present. They might have welcomed us and connected the event with the very reason for this building–for the worship and glory of God. Instead, I think the event was merely an income generator. As the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us “do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” As we pursue commercial ventures in our parishes, as we should and must, let’s not miss the wonderful opportunities they provide to invite others into the purpose of these buildings.