I woke with a heavy heart this morning having heard yesterday about the pending sale of a building that has been a resource for telling people about Jesus for the last 50 years. Bulstrode Park, home to WEC, an international mission agency is a magnificent country estate in Bucks which has resourced the work of WEC as a UK hub. In that time it has been home to many families and individuals as they have gone about their God-given call to preach the good news of Jesus across the nations of the world and provided a resource base for all sorts of mission activities.
Perhaps this is sentimental attachment on my part; I spent a good deal of time at Bulstrode Park through my childhood and teenage years with my best friend who lived there with his family, perhaps it’s a deeper burden.
I’ve grown to understand that buildings can be a great tool and resource to the organisations that occupy them – of course they can be a resource drain when they aren’t being well managed or are ill-suited to their purpose. When Churches and Christian organisations look at their buildings and sites, I wonder what they see – do they see assets that equip and enable them to go about their work efficiently or do they see a hindrance to the vision?
In Matthew 25: 14 – 30, Jesus taught the parable of the talents. The three servants who were given financial resource were allowed to do with it what they wished before the master returned. The worthy servants invested their gift, the unworthy servant buried his in fear of the master and was rebuked for his disregard of the asset he had been given.
This has been the subject of many sermons and is a good lesson in appreciating the gifts God has freely given us and investing them for good return for his Kingdom. I have never heard this stretch to our Church buildings but have come to understand that these too are assets that can be invested wisely or foolishly.
Church buildings that are deteriorating and underused with closed doors much of the week sadden me. Churches who are doing fresh and inspired things with their buildings as a tool to engage with the community around them excite me – not because I think this means work for us architects but because they are releasing the full potential of the talents they are stewarding. Does this mean that we should hang onto our buildings and make them work in some way? Certainly not. There is a time to dispose of a building, demolishing or substantially remodelling or selling it – this could be part of a strategy to invest the asset more wisely and for greater return.
The return I’m referring to is not a financial return, Churches shouldn’t suddenly all become property magnates and real estate managers; I mean a return on our built assets in terms of lives impacted and changed in greater and greater measure when people encounter Jesus. There aren’t any rules of investment or formulae to maximise the return, just an openness to what God would have us do with our built resources and land and the faith to be bold in vision, radical in our understanding of Church in the 21st century and a passion for people.
As for the WEC headquarters, my sadness is by no means a judgement on the decision to sell – I’m certain this will have been taken wisely and in faithful obedience. I trust that this bold move will impact the lives of many many people in the same way that Bulstrode Park has facilitated such deep and profound impact in the lives of countless people in the local neighbourhood, across the UK and throughout the world during the last half-century.