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Archive for September, 2009

Speaking of Architecture

CB064573Legacy, like so many other churches today, currently meets in a rented facility (The Boys and Girls Club of Bentonville). We’ve been praying about our next location for months/years now. The questions we’re seeking to answer are, “Should we always lease or should we buy?” “Should we ever build?” “If so, what should our building look like?” While we’ve been discussing these questions, a few things came to my mind.

There was a time when what took place within banking and lending institutions was serious business. At least the architecture made you think it was. The buildings mimicked ancient Greek and Roman temples with several steps leading up to a porch with large columns. Opening the doors took two hands due to their sheer size and weight. Armed security guards stood inside, some even had their own desks toward the front of the large, cavernous, cathedral-type room, that included marble floors and dark, hand-carved wood furniture and paneling.

If you move to Centerton where I currently live, and need to find a bank, you now have four choices. Not one of the four resembles the description in the paragraph above. One is even in a strip retail complex shared with two fast food stores and a gas station. I guess it’s convenient. Fill your tank, your stomach and your account all in one stop. But here’s what I’m thinking.

I don’t know about you, but the change in architectural style of banks has affected how I think about what takes place inside them. Those behind the counters are much more efficient and effective in their handling of my transaction than those of the past, but my business there seems significantly less important due to the casual atmosphere created by the building, not to mention the attire of the employees.

Yet, banks aren’t the only casualties of “progress”. In most towns, the only building more grand and where the business was more important than the hub of its economy, was the church. Whether First Baptist, Second Methodist or Third Presbyterian, everyone knew what took place inside, and that those who dawned the doors week after week thought what took place was more important than anything else in their lives. Movie theaters may have been “palaces” but the church was a place where people worshiped an Almighty God.

Sadly, the term “sacred space” no longer refers to a sanctuary where the great I AM or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is worshiped in reverence and awe. It refers to some new age space that can be created anywhere, including your home, as long as the furniture is “feng shuied” correctly. Today’s contemporary church architecture provides a nice, comfortable, practical environment for those who sporadically attend the weekly gatherings, but the buildings themselves communicate that what takes place inside is no longer the most important event of the week or in the community. Of course, the disappointment doesn’t stop there. The only thing more “hip” than the building itself is the pastor whose holey jeans, Hawaiian shirt, and sandals reflect his unholy attitude toward the God he serves. (Can you believe I’m only 42?)

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the Father is looking for worshipers who will worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4), not buildings that are monuments to ourselves and become the focal points of idolatry. I understand that each individual believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6) and that the church is a group of people who are becoming a dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2).

At the same time though, I believe the contemporary architecture of today’s churches that is intended to enhance our evangelistic effort, express subtle, unintended messages that are actually counter-productive. Casual and informal are seen as careless and unimportant. Comfortable and relaxed are interpreted as complacent and optional. What’s even more alarming is that the message proclaimed from these new structures is just as comfortable, relaxed, complacent, and optional. Moralistic platitudes have replaced the bold, life-changing message of the Gospel. The central theme is no longer Christ and Him crucified, but man and him satisfied.

I read a statement not to long ago that said “Good scenery cannot make a bad play better, but it can enhance a good play dramatically.” Having the right architecture or building will not save a church whose content is shallow and leadership is sloppy. Conversely, if Christ and His Gospel are properly proclaimed, God’s Word properly taught, the sacraments properly administered, and church discipline and membership properly maintained, a church can assemble in a barn. But which came first, sterilized architecture or a sterilized message? No matter how you answer, I believe our architecture may say more than we realize to the watching world around us. I know our message does.

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Something to Ponder

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post columns I originally wrote from October ’05 – March ’07 for the Rogers Hometown News. I will update them where needed, but thought the original content would be interesting to revisit. I hope you enjoy them.

889530Reading the paper about three years ago, I was struck by a comment made by a fellow pastor. It was a comment that made me ask a few tough questions about churches in our area, in particular, the one I’m blessed to serve as Teaching-Pastor as we began our journey together. His comment was in regards to a portion of their new facility that was being constructed. The pastor said, and I’m paraphrasing, “We want our facility and the objects on our campus to serve as a point of reference and a testimony of what God is doing in our area.” Now, I understand the idea of “point of reference”. The entire campus will definitely provide an obvious “We’re Here!” marker. What caused me to be a little introspective was the idea of the facility being a “testimony” because I’m not quite sure it is testifying to what God is doing in his area, and this is why.

The only way the campus and the facility on it are a testimony is if God’s activity is measured in terms of the size and cost of a church’s symbols and icons (buildings included). Unfortunately, I believe this is commonplace in Christendom today. As a matter of fact, those who are involved in the day-to-day of the church also believe God is active or that a church is successful and its pastor the epitome of leadership by the number of people who fill those buildings week after week. My question is, “Shouldn’t the success of a church and/or a pastor and the measure of God’s activity be determined by the depth of its members and the breadth of its ministry rather than the size of its buildings, inanimate objects or number of members the church boasts? Of course, the answer is yes. Here is where my introspection began.

What if the Presbyterian church didn’t build their facility? What if the Nazarene church never relocated? What if the Methodist church never expanded or renovated their facility? What if the church I serve didn’t move from Lowell Elementary School to the larger Bellview Elementary in Rogers (and then to the Boys and Girls Club in Bentonville)? Would we still believe God was working? Wait, it gets better.

What if the Presbyterian church ceased to exist? What if the Methodist, Four Square, and Christian Church ceased to exist? What if Legacy Baptist ceased to exist or had never been started in the first place? Would the community be negatively impacted in any way? Would anyone other than those who attend the weekly worship services or programs be affected? Would the propagation of the Gospel be inhibited? Would people go unfed, unclothed, and unloved?

You see, what God is doing in our community is not determined by the size of the buildings in which we gather, or by the number of people who gather in them. It’s determined by our good works. Though we’re not saved by them, we have been created or recreated for them (Ephesians 2:10-11), we’ve been commanded to be involved in them (Matthew 5:14-16), and they will make our election sure (2 Peter 1:5-10). James puts it another way. He says that without these good works our faith is useless, even dead (2:14-18, 26). He also says that good works shown to widows and orphans define pure and undefiled religion (1:27). Paul tells Titus they are “excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:8). The old hymn doesn’t say they will know we are Christians by our buildings or our programs or our icons in, on or around our gathering places. It says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Love for God. Love for each other (Christians). Love for our neighbor (non-Christians).

In the spring of 2005 and fall of 2006, I had the opportunity to visit Romania on mission trips. On the way back from the first one, I was able to stop in Germany to visit my sister-in-law. As we toured Wiesbaden and the countryside along the Rhine River, I was amazed at the number as well as the sheer size and beauty of the cathedrals that dotted the landscape. Based on the average American church leader’s and/or church member’s logic, God would seem to be at work in Germany. Unfortunately she told me that many of them are nothing more than tourist attractions. This confirmed what I had heard from others who have spent an extended period of time in Europe. They all express with sadness the fact that most of these churches are simply dead or lifeless spiritually speaking.

So what real impact is the church having in northwest Arkansas? For what are we known? Is our reputation positive? Do people even know who we are or do they simply know where we meet? Are we being good stewards of the resources God has given us when be spend them on large campuses that promote a come and see attitude rather than a go and tell lifestyle? These aren’t attacks. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m simply asking questions of myself, the church I serve, and the Christian community at large. It’s not easy but someone has to do it.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Reformation 21 Article

reform21 Here is a thought-provoking read. Thank you Pastor Chuck.

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