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?
9 responses to “Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Not Just a Pretty Building”
Our Pastor weekly reminds us the church is not the building, ”it’s us, those sitting in here!” So glad to hear you heart on this! We need to be reminded!
Sounds like you’ve got a good pastor 🙂
Great OP. What a coincidence. I was just searching the web for pictures of mini homes to make package to show the Mayor of our City, that we could use to build small Homeless cottages so people can get out of the cold. So far I have 10 different designs.
What I did to the least of these, I did to Him. Beloved let us love one another for love is of God he who loves is born of God.
And they will know we are Christians by our bumper stickers.
Amen. And it will be a light to others. soon.
Preacher is, brother!
Oy! That should read, “Preach it, brother!” (Boy, I wish WP allowed comment editing!)
Yeah, I know what you mean. And I knew what you meant 😉
Great post. It’s so easy to get caught up in the superficial and the visible appearances while forgetting that the Lord sees through all that.
Here is another thing I have been hammering this last week because some I know are so enamoured with making money they cant see anything else.
This House, this Tent, this Life is all going to be crumbling down, why put more bricks on a building that is falling apart. Look behind you and look Up. The mountain stretching to the sky, Its the Lords Kingdom which will last forever. What kingdom are we enamoured with.
I know why we put roofs on our churches but some times I wonder if we should take them off. It makes me realize why they painted the ceilings of some churches. Maybe people will get the hint.