Reverend Tavake Tupou, a Tongan minister in Auckland, who was also a former President of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, says many people in the pew can't really afford the money for impressive structures.
He wants ministers to emphasise the spiritual aspects of church membership.
Reverend Tupou tells Bruce Hill that in the lead up to the Christmas, it's important for church leaders to realise that bricks and mortar are the least important parts of a church.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Reverend Tavake Tupou, a Tongan minister in Auckland, and a former President of the Methodist Church of New Zealand
TUPOU: The concept of what a church should be I think some have gone away from what the bible says, and people tended to have regard the church building as the church, instead of the people and that's why there's a lot of emphasis on elaborate buildings and keeping the buildings sacred and all that, but it's quite obvious when the temple in Jerusalem was demolished and Jesus suddenly becomes a new temple, no more high priests. We've only got one high priest and he's in heaven for Christians. So the church buildings are just places were people can gather and sing their songs of praise and read the bible and hear the word being preached. The church are the people. I mean it's quite clear from Paul's letters to the Corinthians, that he addressed the Congregation as the temple of God and he also addressed individual Christians as the Temple of God, so the Holy Spirit lives in the Christian.
HILL: So this emphasis on building and building large churches in the Tongan communities, that's got some communities into quite a bit of financial difficulty, especially, I believe there's one project in Sydney?
TUPOU: Yes, I mean that's a tragedy, because it is such an elaborate building project. I must admit that the church look absolutely beautiful, but the trouble is they built a church without the necessary funds to do it and it must have deprived families of necessary funds to look after their families and do all other things to build their own lives up and all the money that has gone to this building project and I believe they're in trouble at the moment and I think there was talk of liquidation and selling off their other properties to try and pay off the bills associated with this church in Sydney.
HILL: So this emphasis on church buildings is actually having an affect on the way that Tongans actually relate to their church. They, many of them seem to say that the church seems to demand a lot of money from us, but all we see is buildings?
TUPOU: Yes, and I think it was articulated by a former principal of the Theological College in Tonga. He gave an address at the University of Hawaii, and he shared with them that he was going to take to the floor of conference, the recommendation that all these building projects would cease for the next three years so that the church would concentrate on what it's supposed to be doing and that is building up the lives of the people, which is the actual Temple of the Holy Spirit. He said this at the University in Hawaii. I was a bit disappointed when I heard it. He was the principal of the Theological College for a number of years. Why didn't he teach that theology while he was there, instead of that he goes to Hawaii and tells the Hawaiians which have nothing to do with the building project in Tonga.
Anyway, we waited with baited breath. See what happens at the coming conference and nothing came out of it. They're still building the churches.
HILL: If as you say there's a lot of emphasis on fundraising for buildings in Tongan churches worldwide. If you want there to perhaps be a moratorium on building buildings, where would you like the money to go? What sort of activities do you think churches should be engaging in if not putting down bricks and mortar?
TUPOU: Yes, I think Bruce, one way of telling the priorities of any congregation is look at their budget sheet, where the money goes. So I believe the problems that are facing the Tongans in the churches overseas have to do with the family, have to do with the youth. The suicide rate amongst Tongan youth here in New Zealand, it's just sky high in proportion to our numbers. And so the churches should be putting their money where the needs are and that's with families, with the young people, try to build up their lives and education and make them become the temples, the real temples of God by being Christ-like in what they do. That's where the money should go. Building up the lives of people.