Thursday, August 23, 2007

Under Construction: A different view of the Church

La Sagrada Familia Bascilica ("the holy family"): Barcelona, Spain
picture from website below

La Sagrada Familia (as you can see from the picture) is a church under construction. However, unlike most basilicas that we saw during our tour of italy that were under renovation, this church is still being built. The interesting thing is, it's construction was started in 1882.

La Sagrada Familia, is the artistic vision of Antoni Gaudí, who died in Barcelona in 1926, obviously never seeing his architectural/artist dream come to it's fruition. Adorned within it's architecture are beautiful scenes representing the story of Christ from all 4 gospels. When finally complete in 2026 it will hopefully be all that the architect dreamed it would be, although from other people's hands.

This brings up something that I have been thinking about lately about the Church; specifically the American protestant church. It has been mentioned in conversation to me, that especially in the south, the Church is at LEAST 40 years behind what's really going on in the world today. So far behind, that the modern Church can't even dialogue with the world because they are not speaking the same language (the language of a POSTmodern world)! They are too caught up defending their fort (the same old issues that the rest of civilization moved on from a while back), and in doing things "the way they've always been done"!

now I know that isn't a new argument, and younger people in the Church have heard it for more than one generation. I'm sure it wouldn't take me long to go back through my blog posts to find more than one occasion where I talk about how much I hate that sentence!

The Church needs to change in order to stay relevant in the world today, and on into the future. More people are finally seeing that and struggling with what the next "model" of doing church will be. They look to the Mega-church movement, and try to apply templates. They look at things that Emergent is doing and try to faddishly use an approach or two to bring in more people so that they feel like they are not dying!

But here's the new perspective for me on this "way we've always done it". There NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN A "WAY WE'VE ALWAYS DONE IT"! Yes, there are models that served us well in the 50's, but has lost it's effectiveness every year. Yet the Church will cling desperately to those "programs" long after they've died. No wonder the Church is so far behind in it's dialogue with the world; it's too busy trying to remain relevant to those who have always been in their halls.

So this brings us back to La Sagrada Familia. I think that this amazing and beautiful structure, still under construction, can teach us something. The Architect had a grand vision. He didn't live long enough to see it through, so it is continued by his "disciples". Have things changed from his original vision? I'm sure they have. I'm sure that the designers and workers now do their best to keep with his original vision, but it will probably not end up exactly like Antoni Gaudí imagined. More concretely, technological ingenuity has changed the way that the structure is being built. Advances in architecture, technology, and art since the late 1800's and early 1900's have CHANGED the way we build structures! The designers have remained in dialogue with the scientific advances over time and instead of rejecting them and not moving forward, they have utilized what they could in constructing this church.

A model of ministry, a technique, an idea is only effective for so long. One thing the Church has been horrific in doing, is evaluating their approaches and letting go of those things that are no longer relative in today's world. In essence, they are clinging firmly to their sacred cows, although their cows were never really sacred and died a long time back. In fact they've been clung to for so long, that the rotting meat isn't even salvageable. By that, I mean that whatever could have been salvaged from the dying program and reused in a NEW vision, has been clung to and forced upon people so much that they aren't even receptive to even those good things any more.

Ok, so you have my beef (no pun intended), now what is my proposal? Well, first, we need to do away with templates. THERE ARE NO TEMPLATES OF HOW TO DO CHURCH IN A POSTMODERN WORLD! It is all about a) who are you trying to reach, b) what are their needs c) what are your strengths and weaknesses, and d) what can you do with a,b, and c to be effective?

Second, while we're throwing away the idea of template ministry, we also should chuck the idea of "the way we've always done it." The church's architect (Christ) had a vision for his bridegroom. However, I think he knew it was always going to be in flux. That's perhaps one reason that he never spelled out what the perfect church looks like! This is the revolutionary idea (and I'm sure I'm not the first to think of it, but as of right now the first I've heard say it), that even when we catch up to the world and find something that works, as soon as it starts to be ineffective, we throw it out. There will never again be a "model of ministry" that sustains us through all eternity, and I strongly believe that there was never MEANT to be one in the first place. Yes other models worked for a while, and we will find things that work again. But the Church has to look past their bunkers and learn how to be a church in flux; always changing in order to be relevant to the people they are trying to reach!

So like La Sagrada Familia, we need to be a church that is ALWAYS under construction. we need to be building up young leaders with new ideas, not shutting them out as radicals! We need to be more open to what the needs are, and what is going on in the global community with which we should be in constant dialogue! I've talked about a church in transition (see Tim Conder's book in sidebar), but the misconception of many people is that we will transition from one stable model to another stable model. I think that way of thinking should be (this time I take full responsibility for the pun) Left Behind! The Church needs to become the Church in transition, but will have to realize that it will have to always remain a Church in transition!


  1. the difficult thing for many people, though, is the idea of constant transition. by our very natures, we need something stable, something safe. we overlook the fact that "the way" of Jesus is neither stable nor safe, but that is the way to which we are called. that is another part of us that needs to be transformed and rebirthed if we are to "do" church with any kind of integrity, if we are going to actually be church in transition. if we're not in flux more than we currently are, how then can we best meet the needs of the broken, hurting, pissed off world around us?

  2. Mary,
    That's a very, very good point and stated question! As I mention, I throw an incomplete thought out there to be picked apart, tried and tested to see if it works...thanks for helping me do this.

    (For my own clarification and addition to my thoughts for others who read this):
    I guess what has come to my mind is the realization that when I talk about constant transition, I don't mean week to week, or even year to year. The church will find individual approaches that work for a while...lets say 5 or 10 years. However, it is through constant evaluation and reevaluation that these approaches can be held in check, and people can realize when they need to be tweaked and when they need to be discarded. It is this understanding of flux that my mind conjures up.

    I think that the Church right now is in a time of MAJOR transition, and the reason for that is that the Church has neglected to acknowledge the change that has happened in the world in the last 40 or so years. Neglect is the best term I think: "to not care for something/someone properly" (Encarta dictionary). Had the Church not been so neglectful to the world, the people, and to it's own ministries, then they would not be in such a state of MAJOR flux.

    Of course, I have no way of knowing, but in my mind I see the Church acknowledging that things have to change, changing things to remain relevant, and acknowledging that there will be no more lasting "models". Once caught up, I think the flux will be more gradual in it's continuation, and if the Church remains attentive to the world, it's people, and it's ministries (with constant evaluation), then it will not have to go through a time of such traumatic change again. The flux I envision, and the change i imagine, will happen organically, and the church will continue to EVOLVE (which is a long-term word)as the world around it evolves.

    Your last statement, the question, is the prudent question of our time! This is what is driving us _______ (insert label/tag here of whatever we're being called these days (i.e. liberals, radicals, satan, etc...), who want to reform the Church. as much as we are pissed at the Church sometimes, it is really because we deeply love the Church and what it has (and could ) stood for! We love the Great Commandment (love God, Love Neighbor), and Christ so much! We love people and this world so much that we are either pushing for change, or getting pissed, hurt, or fired by the very institution we want to help! if only others see what we see!

    thanks again!

  3. Hey Justin, Studious Steve here. Alison told me about your blog and I´ve been reading it for a week or two. I wanted to ask if you´ve ever read Bonhoeffer´s "letters and Papers from Prison," particularly the stuff about "religionless Christianity" and whatnot. I think you would really like it, although he unfortunately only writes a few pages on the subject. Some of the emergent stuff sounds like it could be Bonhoeffer-influenced. Have you come across any authors making reference to him? In any cause, many blessings from Germany!

  4. hey steve,
    yeh, I read letters and papers in undergrad, but it's been a while, and def. not through the emergent lens. I think that book is packed up right now, but I'll see if I can get my hands back on it! No, I really haven't heard any mention of Bonhoeffer, but a lot of the postmodern ideas reflect a lot of people (like wittgenstien) who never seems to get the credit for the philosophical ideas being thrown around. I'll check back into letters and papers though...never hurts to reread:)

    Dude, hope things are well from Germany! we miss you man!!! Thanks for jumpin in. It's good to hear from you again!