search this site
SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Get the eNews

* indicates required
Email Format
communicate
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    find ben simpson on facebook
    twitter updates
    resources

    Entries in Church (20)

    Monday
    Dec122011

    Monday Give Away :: Tim Keller's Generous Justice

    A couple of weeks ago I was glad to listen to Tim Keller speak on how churches can launch new ventures and partner with those in the business sector to reach their cities for Jesus.  I have been blessed by Dr. Keller's ministry, his insight, and his witness.

    This week I'm giving away a copy of his book, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just.

    Here is what you have to do:

    In the comments, name your favorite justice and mercy ministry.

    Tell others a little bit about it.  If you're from a non-profit and want to share a link to your site and what you do, do it!  If you're not interested in being considered for the book, just say so.  Share what you are passionate about.  I'll choose one winner at random on Friday.

    My favorite organization is Living Water International.  They are doing great work to bring clean water to communities around the world.

    Comment away!

    Monday
    Dec122011

    Tim Keller :: Creating Business and Spiritual Partnerships to Reach the City

    Tuesday, November 29, I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Tim Keller at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.  The topic: "Creating Business and Spiritual Partnerships to Reach the City".

    I recorded the presentation from my table near the front of the auditorium.  I apologize for the audio quality.  You may hear the sound of plates and utensils being moved.

    Listen to the talk and the Q and A session here:

    Or, right click and "Save As".  

    Tim Keller is one of my favorite pastors and thinkers.  He has a profound ability to pull from a broad range of scholarly, literary, and theological sources to craft coherent and compelling messages.  He is engaging, humorous, and thoughtful.  He also has a passion for evangelism and church planting.  If you like what you hear and would like to download more talks from Dr. Keller, visit here for a collection of free sermons.

    I hope you enjoy Dr. Keller's talk.  Check back soon--I'll be giving away one of his books.

    Click here to find out how to obtain a free copy of Tim Keller's book, Generous Justice.

    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.