Do you remember the pretty pictures of the last church building where I was the pastor? It was the “little white church with the red door” that so many people in our community raved about. It was an historic edifice to a by-gone day when old-fashioned 7-day revivals were still a thing and people went to church because it was expected.
Everybody thought it was a “precious little church [building],” but they had other places to be come Sunday.
Unfortunately, because the outside of a building does not reflect what goes on inside, the admirers who drove by in their cars every day did not know that looks alone couldn’t keep the red doors open for business. The cute little building, despite desperate injections of love and effort, was destined to close.
Now, let’s talk about Georgia…
The church I now pastor gathers in one of the most beautiful structures around! Not some wedding-chapel-like building, Bethlehem Baptist Church is known all over the area as a picturesque, post-card-worthy example of 19th-century architecture. I have no idea how many times the building has been photographed, but I know of three framed pieces of art depicting the structure hanging on different walls inside!
I mean, seriously! It’s one thing to know your church building is special, but it’s a whole different level when you’ve got three paintings of the outside on the inside! Needless to say, you’re not likely to forget where you are on your way to Sunday School.
As a matter of fact, the building itself was built in 1890 as part of the church’s centennial celebration! It’s listed, as you might imagine, as a protected historical site, too. The structure is so well known that when I tell people where I work, if they don’t immediately recognize the name, they remember the building when I describe it.
People know Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Or do they?
(To prove the point, I am sitting at McDonald’s using their WiFi to write this. I asked the lady sweeping the floor, “Do you recognize this building?” She did. She’s from New York, not been here long, but remembered seeing it when driving by – and she’s looking for a church…so I invited her.)
Before I go any further, and before anyone here at Bethlehem who’s reading this gets upset with me, I think Bethlehem Baptist Church is more than a building; it’s a fantastic congregation of Jesus-followers who love each other and their community. However, somewhere along the line the fame of the building outstripped the fame of the congregation’s deeds.
Jesus said that we should let others see our good works so that the ones seeing them might glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Jesus also said the following:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men’s] bones, and of all uncleanness. – Matthew 23:27
Is the building where I pastor a whitewashed tomb?? NO! It’s not! But if our church is known more for our outward beauty, more needs to be done to express the Life that is inside.
When people hear the name Bethlehem Baptist in Warthen, GA, I want the first thing to come to their mind is how much like Jesus the people inside are! I want the beauty of His grace to pop into their minds, not the memory of some architecture made with hands.
We’re NOT just a pretty building; we’re a living body of believers who gather in a pretty building. There’s a difference, and the difference is critical.
What’s in YOUR walls?