During the summers of my teen years I often found myself ankle deep in wet concrete. Usually I had one hand gripped on an archaic tool (torture device) called a “come along” and the other hand making a feeble attempt to wipe the sweat from my face. My dad owned a concrete finishing company that bore the name “Austill Brothers” and had a system of indentured servitude for any younglings with the same last name. I have a love/hate relationship with concrete. I love it for how it gave such fulfillment to my dad, provided for our family, helped pay my college tuition and provided a job when needed. I hated it because it was ridiculously hard work. To this day, the site of a concrete crew, truck or wet cement illicit a simultaneous smile and groan. However, there is a certain pride as I ride around the southwest corner of Tennessee and see buildings erected that I played a part in constructing. My dad poured and finished the concrete for schools, malls, parking garages, airports, churches and many other buildings while he was alive. I have some sweat equity in a few of those structures. Having said that, my dad was a builder…me, not so much.
The term “build” is one we use in Church culture quite frequently. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with using the word in the context of church. I don’t believe it is offensive to God. However, language is powerful and has the ability to affect our thinking in a profound way. At the risk of crossing into semantics, I wonder if our use of the word “build” has been misassigned. We typically use it in the context of our responsibility to “build the church”. Often, by that we mean grow numerically, institute systems, establish literal buildings and raising up various support ministries. None of these things are wrong or bad. There is biblical precedence for all of the above. However, the word “build” throughout scripture tends to have a different connotation and when Jesus references it regarding the building of the church, he takes ownership of that responsibility.
In one of the most profound moments in all of scripture, we are introduced to God’s succession plan, the Church. Jesus and Peter dialogue about the divine identity of Jesus and Peter’s recognition of this truth. Jesus then declares, “upon this rock I will build MY church.” This is Jesus’ role. He is the Masterbuilder (sorry, we’ve been watching the Lego Movie in our house). We have a different assignment, to use the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Keys have a couple of basic meanings. First, they are a sign of authority. The owner has the keys and he distributes them to those he desires to have access. Keys open doors or gates. Keys open up the blockage or barrier between two places or realms. It seems Jesus was implying our assignment is to open the door between the world and the Kingdom of God so that the two can interact. Jesus was letting us know, our mission in the earth is take the message, attributes, ways and culture of God’s kingdom and expose them to the world in a partnership with heaven. If we do this…If we open the door for love, joy, peace, hope, light, freedom etc., the church will be built. In the end, Jesus will build his Church with or without us but this is our assignment.
A secondary note is that throughout the epistles “building the church” was predominantly in reference to the spiritual development of the people of God. A spiritually vibrant, healthy people naturally (or supernaturally) beget a growing church (corporate). I recall another moment in the bible when building was a prominent part of the story. The location was Babel. The people were working together to achieve something incredible. They were accomplished, successful and defying their limitations…and God was displeased. Why? Because they were “building a great city for themselves”, building so they could be “famous” and building for security and convenience. I am compelled to ask the question frequently…Does all that I am doing “for the Lord” more closely resemble Babel or the keys to the Kingdom? Selah