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Building the Church in Panama
By Rod Boyd

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
                                               —Ephesians 2:19-22

Today I visited the ruins of old Panama. Today was tour day for our building team in town. The signature piece of "Old Panama" is the church tower. Panama has recently been taking much more interest in these old structures. The church tower has an elaborate scaffolding attached to restoration work.

Paul, in the passage above, paints a vivid word picture. He describes the church as a building, a holy temple. We’ve been doing a lot of building here in Panama…mostly schools. I’m not a builder. But I have learned a great deal about building these last few years. I’d like to share four essential parts of building and relate them to what God is doing in the church here in Panama. It goes without saying that God is the true builder. We are his assistants.

Panama's executivesThe first and most essential part of the building is the part you can’t see… the foundation! For Paul, the foundation of the church is the “apostles and prophets” with Christ as the “Chief Cornerstone.” This refers to the words of the prophets, including Christ, and apostles as recorded in God’s Word. There is no substitute for biblical truth. Without the base of biblical principle all that rises is destined to fall.

We are so grateful for the good foundation laid in Panama by the previous generations of missionaries. We are blessed with quality leadership. We have the privilege of “riding on the coattails” of great men and women. Yet we carry the same baton of faith and have the mutual responsibility of holding the church accountable to these biblical principles. This is an awkward and uncomfortable place to be. Most of the time I don’t feel adequate or worthy to be work alongside our national leaders. But I do by God’s grace.

Church towerThe second essential part of a building is the superstructure. Columns rise from the foundation and are connected by beams. The walls and floors depend upon this superstructure. The superstructure is above ground. But like the foundation it is unseen, covered by decorum and façade. In an organization or society the word infrastructure is often used to describe the structural part that supports function. 

Those that know me well know that infrastructure is my specialty. It was my focus during sixteen years of pastoral ministry. I now find myself exercising administrative gifts to improve the infrastructure of the church in Panama. The revival growth of the first 30 years of the Assemblies of God in Panama will not be sustained without adequate infrastructure… it will tumble under its own weight.

Here is an example of an infrastructure issue. There were approximately 800 ministers when we arrived to Panama in 1995. It was an approximate number because no one really knew. I remember the day I went to the General Secretary’s office a few weeks after arriving and asked his secretary if there was a list of ministers and churches. She pointed to the four or five sheets of paper taped to the wall with a puzzled look on her face. 

Annual meetingIt took more than two years for God to open a door of opportunity. But he did. In the last five months before our furlough we were able to help the General Council offices modernize their computer equipment and network, update credential application forms and more importantly develop a database application. After returning we have been able to improve the system. January 10, 2001 was a day of victory as the first directory of churches and ministers was distributed at our annual session. Today we know exactly how many ministers and churches we have. By the way we now have more than 1,200 ministers!

The third part of a building is the dividers… the floors and walls that define space available. It should reflect the purpose for which the space was created. The word organization fits the church world. Organization refers to the development and execution of a plan and to the management of resources, including people! The communication system is the lifeline.

Arch repairWithout a doubt, this is one of the greatest challenges we face in Panama. We have much “tweaking” to do in program. I am happy for the progress we’ve made in the Christian school ministry. I’m thankful for the refining of direction that is taking place in our Bible schools, especially our move towards university level programs. I believe we need to make some radical changes to answer God’s call to be a missionary church. The greatest obstacle the Panamanian church faces is a lack of resources. I believe the people are there. It is more the financial side. God may be trying to teach the church a greater dependence upon Him. We are praying that He supply every need.

The fourth and final part is the decoration… For many this is the fun part. We dress up what we have. We hide the steel and show off the lines. There’s nothing wrong with decoration as long as the other three are securely in place. Form without function is flash. Flashings, façades and fronts serve their purpose, but are useful only if there is “stuff” behind them!

Annual sessionOne of our churches launched out and purchased a small piece of property on the main road to the airport. They left their rented storefront and moved into a tent on the property…during the rainy season. A church in Texas helped with an offering. The congregation was able to build the upper part of the shell of a sanctuary, the beams and roof. One of the wealthier men in the church donated hundreds of blocks for the walls. Rather than put up walls, a fancy front was built. As you approach the building from each side you can see that there are no walls on the side. 

What is the decoration in an organization like the church? It can be the “front” put up by pastors. It can be music or building or even program. But God doesn’t look on the outside, but on the inside, on the heart.

We are praying for the church in Panama that God would: Firm up the foundation… Strengthen the infrastructure… Energize the organization… Sanctify the decoration. Please join us!