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    Entries in Church (18)

    Thursday
    Nov102011

    Churches in Britain Open Their Doors to Secular Music Performances

    The BBC states that churches in Britain are opening their doors to secular music, inviting performers to book their venues for shows.

    Ian Youngs reports:

    "A lot of churches have been opening up their doors recently for the arts," says Emma-Lee Moss, who goes by the stage name Emmy the Great.

    "They're beautiful places and they've always had music in them. And also, they're losing money. They take a lot of money to maintain so it makes perfect sense."

    Moss says a church can make for a more memorable gig setting than your average Academy or Apollo. "You can really get into the mood when you're looking up to the ceiling and it goes on and on and on, and there's an angel at the top," she says.

    The Union Chapel in London has been the trailblazer, having hosted the likes of U2, Adele and Noel Gallagher while remaining a functioning place of worship.

    Youngs elaborates concerning finances, stating that these gatherings supplement church music budgets, not only building maintenance.  They also bring young people in to the cathedrals that otherwise may not visit.  Though some church-goers have expressed their doubts as to whether these shows should be take place in the church building, persuasion and content guidelines have helped to assuage the fears of the concerned.

    I cannot help but feel conflicted in light of this report.  I celebrate the fact that churches would open their buildings to the arts, even when the artistic expression is not explicitly Christian.  Yet I lament the fact that the spaces within these cathedrals are no longer reserved for the sacred, or, at the very least, for hosting the talents of the artists that have arisen from the life of the churches themselves.  While the buildings themselves may give testimony to the heritage of the faith, and while comfort in those spaces may break down barriers for some regarding the church, I doubt leveraging church venues for profit will be a gateway to revitalization and renewal.  The artists may appreciate the picturesque nature of the setting, and the patrons may marvel at the majesty of the structure, but will anyone give thought to the God who inspired such ventures?  Will a creeping suspicion of another world enter the imaginations of those who enter spaces designated as sacred, when the occasion has little specifically to do with the sacred at all?

    Questions to ponder; dilemmas to consider.

    Tuesday
    Aug022011

    In Defense of Church Architecture

     

    In Defense of Church Architecture

    The church is not a building, we are told.  The church is a people.  While true, churches throughout history have constructed buildings for the purpose of public worship and assembly.  And therefore, though the church is not a building, churches often construct buildings to achieve certain ends.  Foremost among those ends is a forum for the voicing of the liturgy, the proclamation of the Word of God through song, prayer, sermon, and sending.  The church, as an outpost of God’s Kingdom, is called to announce the gospel, encourage the saints, and spur its members toward good deeds.  A building is not required to accomplish this end, but it is helpful. 

    Other uses for the church building abound.  Churches have been used as meeting grounds for community forums (sponsored by the church or otherwise), discipleship programs, non-church affiliated gatherings (when the church building is the largest and most practical space available), high school graduations, and countless other uses.  In large cities, some churches have served as a resting place from the busy streets, or, in our modern era, a cool place to sit on a hot day.

    For whatever reason people step in to our space, our buildings communicate a message.  The high archways, the adorned passageways, the positioning of the altar, the pulpit, and the baptismal, all send a message.  The artwork adorning the hallways or ceilings (or the lack thereof), the statuary (again, or the lack), the floor texture and layout can provoke questions, stimulate the imagination, or communicate or hint toward some aspect of the faith.  As I have argued elsewhere, before a word is even spoken, buildings speak. 

    As new congregations discern proposed building plans, there is some debate concerning their construction.  Modern church buildings differ significantly from those constructed in the past due to rises in materials costs, technological capabilities, or practical usage.  Floor plans have transitioned from cruciform layouts or the simple forward facing, lecture friendly arrangement of pews to theatre style seating with all the modern comforts.  Seating arrangements in the round have gained traction.  Some churches, foregoing the permanence or fixed nature of pews or bolted down seating, have opted for folding or stackable chairs, allowing mixed use for the church’s primary gathering space.  None of these new development are wrong in and of themselves, but each communicates a message that should not be overlooked.  For those that have eyes to see, look!

    Surveying church architecture has become a hobby.  Like many of my generation, I am draw to older buildings, feeling a sacredness present in those spaces that is notably absent from many modern constructions that often feel more like the cinema or the television studio, a place where a drama is performed rather than a place where a drama is enacted that invites participation from those that are gathered.  In this way I am like many of the unchurched, who prefer the ideals of the older structures.  The church where I grew up was simply constructed: pews, green carpeting, a piano and organ up front, each flanking a choir loft, and, at the center was the pulpit, standing in the shadow of an elevated baptismal.  The Word and fount were the focus of the congregation's gaze, shaping our vision.

    Such buildings are now passe’, as they lack the accoutrements demanded by the middle and upper middle classes, who now possess the resources to raise a building from the ground.  Perfect acoustics, amplified by the best in sound equipment and digital technology, complemented by video screens that either flank the elevated “stage” or, perhaps, dominate the center of the landscape, make either the primary speaker or the musicians larger than life.  By no means do I think these modern amenities wrong or sinful, but they do speak.  The medium, as McLuhan said, is the message, and, as McLuhan’s disciples argued, technologies are not only used by us to shape our world, they in turn grab hold of and shape us.  Let us not be so foolish to think that the environments we have created with our modern tools have no affect on our souls.

    Enough musings on buildings past and present.  Let us turn an eye toward the future.  As part of a congregation that is in the process of building, I have been party to many of the arguments taking place at the level of design and vision.  What should our church look like?  How should we utilize our resources?  What is practical?  What messages do we wish to embed in the structure itself?  How do those messages reflect our current constitution as a church, and what type of trajectory will our building help propel us on as we seek to fulfill our mission as the people of God?  What importance does beauty have in our conceptualizing?  One hundred years from now, what would our building say to someone walking in?  Would the question arise, “What kind of God do, or did, these people worship?”

    Often in these discussions there are arguments made for practicality and for extravagance.  Depending on the vision of the people and the budget, it is likely that in some facets the building itself will be reflective of both these values.  But I wish to spend time reflecting on either one of these extremes, and then, after having voiced my thoughts on both, offer a third alternative that takes both into account but moves beyond these strict limitations.  Lastly, and finally, I hope to reflect on what our architecture says about us, and about the God Christians name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In the end, our buildings should be constituted by the nature of our witness.

    The Argument for Practicality

    Servants on our committees who have been given the gift of administration often note the exorbitant costs affiliated with the construction and maintenance of church buildings.  Church leaders should praise God for these people.  My father has told me of days gone by, where deacons and church committee members who were part of my home church were encouraged to ask questions like, “how much will that structure cost us annually to keep air conditioned?” before building construction even began, noting that such questions are reflective of wisdom, not a lack of faith.  There are those in our churches today who continue to ask such questions, not because they wish to reign in the dreamers, douse the flame of the Spirit of God, or limit the scope of God’s provision.   We should not silence such people.  They simply wish to be good stewards.  They want the church to be practical, and to make good use of our resources.

    These practically-minded individuals view building construction as a means by which we make the most of our financial resources, maximizing every dollar, and ensuring utmost in efficiency.  Not a penny is to be wasted.  In our modern era, what might result?

    Let us imagine: the practical ends of a church building are several.  Firstly, it must be a place wherein a suitable number of current membership can gather for a reasonable or set amount of services, allowing some flexibility for future growth.  A practical suggestion may be that the building be constructed with the expectation that it be regularly filled to 80% capacity, achieving the sociological and psychological goal of making the space seem full enough to constitute a crowd, but spacious enough to encourage members to invite others into the space, and comfortable enough for those in attendance to spread out.

    Secondly, it must be a place supplied with the needed aesthetic tools and technology fitting for modern worship.  Sound and light, acoustics and visual supplements should work well in the space.  Perhaps the space itself should be multifunctional, fitting for worship gatherings and other uses, such as concerts or pageantry during Christmas or Easter.  The chair, carpet, and color scheme should indicate warmth, but not interfere or detract from the focal point of the building itself--that which is taking place on the stage.  It is the music and the message that people come to hear.  There should not be a bad seat in the house.

    Thirdly, it may be that the practically-minded person will wish to incorporate more traditional elements, such as a cross, an altar table, or a baptismal font.  If the space will serve multiple functions, these items will not be fixed or too permanent, nor will they be positioned in places where they cannot be covered.

    Fourthly, and perhaps some might say humorously, there is the matter of parking and bathrooms and expanded concourses and easily passable walkways.  We would not want anyone to feel crowded, or impeded, or forced to exercise the virtue of patience!  Practically speaking, our audiences are accustomed to convenience.  Our buildings must meet that demand.  Questions surrounding these matters are important, and should factor in to our building plans.  But let us not make more of these things than we ought.

    Fifthly, and lastly for the purposes of this essay, there is the matter of community.  How do our spaces foster connection?  Do we have areas where people can gather, relax, and casually converse?  While the worship gathering may help us to meet the practical end of singing, praying, listening, and being commissioned together, should our building include supplemental spaces that increase and foster our fellowship?

    The practically minded leader orders their priorities clearly, placing function and cost-effectiveness at the top of the list.  What is required to help us meet our goals, and what is the most reasonable means of spending our allocated monies toward meeting those goals?  These concerns have guided many decisions of many building committees.  The  Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25 comes to mind.  Entrusted with a great deal of God’s resources in the form of a budget, these stewards wish to prove faithful.  And they do so through the applied rubric of practicality.

    The Argument for Extravagance 

    Complementing the more practical-minded among us are those who wish to meet the demands of extravagance.  As my friend Matthew Anderson has argued, these persons have noted that the Bible is filled with superfluities, occasions where God has provided not only enough for the day, but an abundance.  In response, these individuals argue that our buildings should be reflective of this reality, they should give witness to God’s tremendous outpouring of grace.  No architectural feature is too grand.  No accoutrement is deserving of anything less than the best--the best in sound, in light, in video projection, in seating, in staging, in ornament.  Banners, baptismal, artistic displays, murals, altar material, stained glass!  The building should be beautiful, and no expense should be spared. 

    There is a great deal of merit in this approach, and the biblical precedent is strong.  The construction of both the tabernacle and the temple resulted in immense offerings from the people of God.  The Temple as constructed under Solomon was so beautiful that the second iteration under Herod evoked tears from those who looked upon it, for it paled in comparison to what had been constructed before.  The ornaments of the priests were nothing short of dazzling, and the garb of the chief priest was adorned in an extravagant way.  The jewels upon his breastplate, one representing each of the tribes of Israel, signified the precious nature of these people to God, and were reminders to all under the covenant that they were God’s valuable possession.

    The argument for extravagance might also be expressed as the principle of excellence.  A church where I was once employed lived by the motto, “Excellence in all things, and all things to the glory of God.”  This philosophy was applied to building construction as well as approaches to ministry.  Therefore, the children’s and youth areas, the worship/sanctuary space, the classrooms, the Christian school, the decor in the offices--everything--was informed by this principle.  This structure, though modern, sought to exemplify this ideal, and in many ways this church has accomplished that aim.  The facilities are extravagant.  You can see that a great deal of investment has been made in the structure.

    These persons who argue for extravagance are right to note the biblical story that undergirds it.  Those long and sometimes difficult to read portions of Exodus, for example, that detail the dimensions of the tent of meeting and the placement of the ark, the bread of presence, the lamp stand, the curtain, the courts, and the altar are significant, for they remind us that God does tend to those settings where we intend to meet him.  

    If God is truly who Christians proclaim God to be, it is not hard to justify the dedication of a tremendous amount of resources to construct and maintain a facility that is glorious in detail.  This building is not built in order to be a monument to ourselves, or to somehow earn favor with God, as though God would love us more if we were to provide him with a fancy structure.  No!  Those who wish to build a building that is in accord with extravagance do so in order to witness to the extravagance and grandiosity of God.  The building itself is an offering of praise.

    The Ideal Posture: Generous Stewardship Bending Toward Truth and Beauty 

    A sound approach to a new structure will integrate both practicality and extravagance.  The vision will be both bold and grand.  The building will be beautiful, and, we hope, indicative of what is true about the God to whom the structure will be dedicated.  Every dollar will be well spent.  Miserliness will be put aside.  Generosity will be the rule of the day.

    Though written with a focus on charity more broadly, when I think of building a building, and gathering the necessary resources to accomplish such a task, the words of Jonathan Edwards come to mind.  Written in 1732, Edwards’ sermon, “Christian Charity, or, The Duty of Charity to the Poor, Explained and Enforced,” connects the act of charitable giving directly to the charity of God.  Edwards addresses common objections to the act of giving charitably to the poor and the downtrodden. Every objection is met with truth of the gospel.

    There are those who are reticent to spend a great deal of money on an extravagant church structure, for fear that such an expense would be imprudent and rash, betraying the demands of practicality, and exceeding the demands of basic need.  Is it not enough to build a forum that can reasonably hold current membership, with some room for growth, while supplying all the necessary technological aids to worship?  Is the message not enough of a centerpiece?  Isn’t the spoken word enough for didactic purposes?  We do not need other excessive means of communicating Christian truth in our buildings, do we?  Will not a simple altar table or small, removable font suffice?

    Is such an approach even enough to begin to scratch the surface in our efforts to witness to Christian truth?  One based on sheer practicality and attention to the bottom line?  No, it is not.  

    Displays of beauty will exceed practicality, if they are to give rich testimony to the truth of our story.  Yet nothing could be more practical, for the extravagance of our buildings are themselves witnesses to the truth with which we have been entrusted.  In our hope to be both practical and extravagant, both good stewards and revelers in God’s reality, we have forgotten our calling to foremost be true to the One who is our chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ.  If we are to be true to Christ, we will be both extravagant and practical.  Our extravagance and our practicality will converge, yielding an extravagant practicality, and a practical extravagance, put on display to give witness to the truth that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is reconciling the world unto himself.

    Exceeding the beauty of any screen, effective sound system, or availability of comfortable seating will be font and table; the Word of God written, spoken, and lifted high in the cross.  Generosity must be displayed by the people of God in response to the grace of God that has been given in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, we must both display that truth in all of its beauty, sparing no expense with all willingness to be extravagant, yet simultaneously exercising good judgment and prudence in the allocation of our resources, so as not to squander the gifts we have received as a result of Christ’s ultimate gift, the bearing of our sins on the cross so that we might be reconciled both to God and to one another.

    Final Word: The Testimony of Architecture

    In a century, if the children of your children were to walk in to the building that you and your people had constructed, what would they say?  Would the facets present in the building evoke questions?  Would they say, “what does this mean?”  Would they open up space for a story to be told, either from the pages of the Bible, or from the life of the congregation?  Even if the building were to stand empty, which we pray to God, that by his mercy, will not be the case, would they marvel?  Would they stand in awe at the craftsmanship, the sacrifice, and the testimony such a structure might evoke?

    It is my hope that the church of which I am part, The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, will build in accordance to what is true and beautiful, with nothing being more true and more beautiful than the gospel of Jesus Christ.  May the buildings we construct be a testimony to that reality, as well as a commissioning place for the execution of his mission, to be ambassadors of new creation and witnesses to the now present reality of God’s Kingdom.

    Wednesday
    Jul132011

    Are You Bored With Word and Sacrament?

    Michael Horton, in The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples, writes:

    What are so many younger Christians reacting against that makes them long for genuine community of engaging, forgiving, and loving friendship?  What are the realities that provoke their indictment of hypocrisy, dogmatism, and inwardly focused lives and churches?  I believe at least part of the answer lies in the fact that many traditional and megachurch environments are bored or distracted form the gospel and its delivery through the ministry of Word and sacrament. [Empahsis mine.]

    Is Horton right?

    I have my own thoughts, but I'd like to hear yours first.

    Tuesday
    Oct122010

    A Good All Can See

     

    Disclaimer: These are some rambling reflections on work.  Read at your own risk.

    Work and the workplace.  Each job has an environment all of its own.  And what emerges from that environment is often a reflection of the type of work that is being carried forth, forming and shaping workers as well as the rules and boundaries that govern their relations.  For example, how different is a church office from a fast food restaurant, or a software design firm from a bus company?  What kinds of people do these workplaces draw, what kind of people do they produce, and what impact does it have on how we relate to one another?

    Within the context of discussing the workplace, Matthew Crawford makes an interesting observation.  In light of how crass a construction site or mechanics workshop can become, Crawford wonders why these environments tolerate sexual and base humor, often directed at and between other members of a work crew, even when such crews may represent a mixture of genders and societal backgrounds.  Why is the office, of all places, so highly regulated, when the shop is not?  What is it about the nature of "knowledge" and highly skilled "corporate" workplaces that demand tightly regulated social controls?

    The answer: the shop produces measurables that the office does not.  Either it works, or it doesn't.  Either it is soundly constructed, or it is not.

    [I]t is the office rather than the job site that has seen the advent of speech codes, diversity workshops, and other forms of higher regulation.  Some might attribute this to the greater mixing of sexes in the office, but I believe a more basic reason is that when there is no concrete task that rules the job--an autonomous good that is visible to all--then there is no secure basis for social relations.  Maintaining consensus and preempting conflict become the focus of management, and as a result everyone feels they have to walk on eggshells.  Where no appeal to a carpenter's level is possible, sensitivity training becomes necessary.

    -Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, 157

    Measurables that are concrete, visible, leaving little doubt concerning a job done right.  Level and plumb line.

    Through Shop Class as Soulcraft, Crawford makes the argument that the type of work that we do is character shaping.  He persuasively argues that a great deal of knowledge work is dehumanizing, and that other types of work, such as motorcycle repair, allow for a type of human flourishing that is all too often degraded in our upwardly mobile, American economy.  He observes, rightly, that construction, woodworking, auto repair, appliance and machine maintenance, and the like, are jobs that cannot be outsourced to cheaper, hungrier, rising knowledge workers somewhere around the world.  He observes, also correctly, that work that requires "craft" over image and relational management is far more stabilizing, grounding, and capable of producing mettlesome individuals.  Of all the books I've read this year, the insights given in this book rank among my top five.

    Interestingly enough, church work is both knowledge work and work that is deeply concerned with matters of character.  The "craft" element in the work that is "church" are things like listening, care, provision of resources (including, but not limited to financial assistance, housing, food, medical care, and the like), grief support, healing, and even worship.  But how might we "measure" such work to establish a "secure basis for social relations?"  How do we know when we have become a people who listen well, or care with excellence?

    Reading Crawford's account of work, I couldn't help but be drawn into his delineations between knowledge work and work of a different sort, such as his responsibilities as a mechanic.  I found myself agreeing that much of white-collar work and "management" requires more image management and blame-shifting than it does leadership, in many instances.  As a former Starbucks employee, and now as an employee of a transportation business, Shop Class enabled me to think differently about different jobs that I have held.  However, when applied to the work of church, the church seemed to emerge as a distinct entity that did not follow the rules of "work" as presented.

    In the life of the church, the "good all can see" is difficult to define.  It is difficult to discern just how one's work might "produce" the good.  And oftentimes, the good we work for, even when we may act faithfully, is elusive, for Christians acknowledge that while our agency is not inconsequential, it is God who provides the growth, even if it is we who plant and who water.

    We might know good when we see it.  But when it comes to church, it is amazing how often we are surprised at what brings about the good, and how often it is that we seem to be groping in the darkness for how to bring about the very good that it is we hope for.

    Tuesday
    Feb162010

    Revival and Renewal in the Evangelical Tradition :: What Does it Mean?

    Among my peers, the renewal of the church is of great concern.  Many of my friends want to see the church make a radical difference in our world, and because they sense a great disconnect between the people of God and their surrounding communities, they recognize there is a great deal of work to be done.  I've heard many of my friends bat around various ideas for the bringing of renewal and revival.  Some of them are doctrinal, some are programmatic, consisting of both the abstract and the concrete.  Renewal is the end to which my peers would like to see their efforts move, but the type of dynamic required, or how and when renewal has occurred throughout church history, has yet to find coherent expression within the context of a vision for how such renewal might take place within this generation.

    See more from Simon_K on Flickr!Even though I've heard my friends talk about their desire for renewal, I had not thought specifically of how and when renewal takes place until recent days.  In other words, I had failed to take into account "meta" level questions.  I have expressed the need for doctrinal coherence and faithfulness to essentials.  I've urged (and participated in) excellence in ministry, service, evangelism, and worship.  I've stressed the importance of living a virtous, Christ-like life.  But I haven't tied them all together, and considered, on the whole, how renewal and revival come about.

    Thankfully, I had a moment of clarity while reading.  It was John Stott who recently stoked my thinking toward revival within the context of evangelical belief and practice.  Stott, like many within the evangelical tradition, points out that revival and renewal occurs when the Spirit of God falls fresh on a body of people, with the result being conviction of sin, repentance, virtuous living (exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit), a binding cohesion within the fellowship, and undertaking initiatives of social concern, among others.  Renewal or revival, therefore, is something that is not wholly under human control, but is the outflow of something God has done and is doing.

    When we think of revival, oftentimes we have preconceived notions of exactly what must happen in order for the movement itself to be true.  Either it must be a well-coordinated campaign, or it must be something completely spontaneous and unplanned.  Either we must diligently work towards planning an "event" and mobilizing those who believe in Jesus to bring every person in the community under the tent, or we must be struck by the Spirit in the midst of an exuberant time of worship in a way that was almost completely and totally unforeseen.

    I would argue that both are right, and both are wrong.

    Two extremes should be carefully qualified and examined.  On the one hand, an excessive dependence on emotionalism and fostering a certain type of "experience "of the gospel of Jesus Christ does not necessarily indicate the presence of revival, and on the other hand, a programmatic approach to bringing about revival does not necessarily deliver the coming of a great awakening.  In other words, rolling in the aisles does not necessarily mean that the Spirit of God has descended afresh, nor does participation in a crusade or a formal process to evangelize the community.  While both of these may create conditions or foster space wherein "renewal" or "revival" might begin, they do not automatically result in a radically transformative movement within the people of God.  God cannot be manipulated or forced, rather, the Spirit blows where it wills.

    What I'm driving at here is simple: "renewal" or "revival" is not something that we create, but it is something that God sends.  However, this does not exclude the responsibility of Christian people to create space wherein renewal and revival can take place.  To cite an example from Tim Keller, our responsibility as the church is to prepare the altar, all the while longing that God would do something new.  When this occurs, it will not only be the case that non-Christian persons will come to see Jesus, but so will those who "believe," resulting in such radical transformation of life that the overall witness of the church will be undeniably strengthened.  Conversion will occur both inside and outside the church.

    For all my friends longing for renewal, it is time to begin a discussion that moves beyond a vague desire for the church to be made over and begin to examine, at length, the dynamics or conditions that must be present for renewal or revival to take place.  After doing so, we must then work to establish those conditions, and then place our full trust and reliance that the Holy Spirit will come and convert the faithful and unfaithful alike to faithful discipleship to Jesus, our Lord.  

    I'll confess that most of what I have heard concerning renewal and revival has been primarily concerned with universal principles or techniques that yield maximal organization excellence or effectiveness, and has had less to say concerning the spiritual and doctrinal dynamics that must be in play in order to create space for a dramatic movement that clearly has resulted from the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  I'd like to see this conversation balanced, particularly within mainline denominations, and within the discourse of the local church of which I am part, which has a great deal of influence and has made much headway in working towards renewal.  That conversation must start somewhere, and I don't expect it to be exhausted here.  But I'm hoping that perhaps my thoughts will kindle a spark within the hearts of those who also would like to see the church renewed, and who know, deep down, that it will not only require the right technique, but also a depth of commitment to doctrinal truth, social concern, vibrant and passionate love of God, personal holiness, and warm welcome that both precedes and accompanies a dramatic movement of the gospel.

    Let's set the sails, and let the Spirit blow us where it wills.