I received an email yesterday from a man who visited a new church only to be confronted by the pastor because the man’s wife brought a drink into the “sanctuary.” Lest you think that this is uncommon, it was not long ago that I attended a church where the pastor made a huge deal out of anything other than water being brought into the auditorium. Presumably, such rules are in place because of fear that coffee or other drinks might get spilled on the carpet and result in a stain.
I have two fundamental issues with this thinking. The first issue has to do with the whole idea of any part of the building being the “sanctuary.” When believers enter the meeting room to gather for worship, they are not entering the temple where they will encounter God. The believers are temples (1 Cor. 6:19) carrying the Holy Spirit with them into the meeting. To protect one part of the building as being more holy or special makes no sense to me.
Secondly, the church is not the building, the church is the people who gather there for worship. It should be kept in mind that the people matter more to God than the building. A church leadership that does not understand this is not worthy of following.
Proverbs 14:4 says, “where there are no oxen, the manger is clean.” When the manger is fulfilling its role of feeding oxen, it becomes a little messy. To remain clean requires that the manger avoid it’s designed purpose.
In the same way, the “church” building is intended to facilitate worship. It should be used to bring people into a deeper relationship with God. It should be used to meet the needs of the people who gather there. When it is used in this way, it is likely that the carpet will pick up a few stains and the building might show some wear and tear.
There is nothing wrong with having beautiful tools. I have known some auto mechanics that have impressive tool chests with shiny chrome plated wrenches and other tools. While the chrome plating is nice to have, it is not the plating that makes the tool useful. The wrench is useful because it is made of forged steel and it is sized properly for the nut that requires turning.
In the same way, the building in which we worship may be beautiful or it may be rather plain. Either way, the building can serve its intended function of being a gathering place of believers. We are to be good stewards of the resources God has given us, so if we have been given a beautiful building, we should be faithful in maintaining the building. But at the same time, we should never forget that the building is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The building is a tool to bring people into community.
Church leaders will be graded by God on how well they shepherded the people that came under their care, not on how well they preserved the carpet in the building. Leaders will have to give an account of how well they used the building to change lives and facilitate worship of God.
Do I want coffee stains on the carpet at my church? Yes, I think I do. Because if we are going to get people together, if we are going to facilitate relationship, we are going to do things like drink coffee and munch on snacks. When we do this, accidents will happen. Drinks will get spilled and food will get dropped. It is inevitable.
Since I want the interaction with people (and the snacks are nice to have), I will live with a few stains in the carpet.