Sunday, July 22, 2007

What A Church Looks Like

A number of years ago, I had an idea for what I thought would be a great ministry. I wanted to start a printed Christian publication known as Body Power News. The logo would be a cross constructed from two sticks of dynamite, representing the "dunamis" of the Holy Spirit.

The name "Body Power" was inspired by a local publication named Pennypower Shopping News. Pennypower Shopping News was a local publication consisting entirely of classified ads and inexpensive display ads. It was a good place to advertise if one wanted to sell used merchandise, and it could be useful for other purposes as well.

However, there were certain types of ads which I wouldn't really have wanted to run in such a publication, partially because Pennypower had no specific sections for those types of ads, but also because that periodical's readership didn't necessarily consist solely or primarily of Christians.

My idea was to create a classified ad publication (to be distributed primarily through churches and Christian bookstores) focusing specifically on the Body of Christ and on the needs of individual members of the Body of Christ. Hence the name Body Power News.

Unfortunately, there was no Internet as we know it today. The option of publishing online didn't exist. Therefore, I knew that in order to turn my dream into a reality, I'd need to find someone willing to finance the printing and distribution of such a tabloid publication. So I put together a lettersize flyer which I planned to post on bulletin boards at my church and at other churches, in order to locate people who might be interested enough in the idea that they'd be willing to finance the venture.

Unfortunately, the idea never really got off the ground. The first snag came when I attempted to post the aforementioned flyer in the hallways of my own church. I was told that I could post it on the bulletin board just outside of the sanctuary, if I could find any space there. But the bulletin board was already completely full, mostly with things I regarded as far less important than my project. (Ironically, if my publication had ever taken off, there would have been far less need for such bulletin boards.)

I suggested that I could just tape my notice up neatly in the hallway, since the bulletin board was full, but that suggestion was rebuffed. I was told that if people were allowed to post notices in non-designated areas of the hallway, the church would no longer look like a church!

I thought that was a strange thing to say. When I'd been a student in public school, I'd often seen posters in the halls, advertising various events. The school didn't look any less like a school on account of the presence of those posters.

I found myself thinking back over the years about all of the different churches I'd attended, from huge churches with beautiful sanctuaries to tiny storefront operations to house churches that met in people's homes. To say nothing of the fact that American churches looked nothing like churches in distant countries such as Russia. From what I could see, there was no single "look" common to all churches. Saying that the church would no longer look like a church if I posted my sign in the hallway seemed to falsely suggest that all Christian churches had a certain look, when in fact that was demonstrably false.

In fact, that particular church didn't look much like a traditional church. It was a rather bland cinderblock building which could have easily been mistaken for a corporate warehouse, if not for the sign out front announcing that it was a church. It wasn't as if my little lettersize sign would have significantly detracted from the aesthetics of the place. Aesthetically, that church wasn't much to get excited about, with or without my sign.

If the architecture varies widely from one church to the next, then it could be accurately said that it is not architecture which primarily defines what a church looks like. If not the architecture, then what exactly does define what a church looks like?

I propose that what defines the Church --- or rather, what ought to define the Church --- is how we Christians relate to one another. The scriptures do not tell us that unbelievers will know that we are Christians by the fact that we meet regularly in buildings which look a certain way. Rather, we are told that they will know that we are Christians by our love for one another.

Wow! Love! What a radical concept.

How does one recognize a true church? One recognizes a true church because it is a place where ministry is taking place on a regular basis. And by ministry, I don't just mean the preaching and teaching of the Word, as important as that may be. I also mean the doing of the Word. Wherever hurting people are being comforted and healed, wherever hungry people are being fed, wherever lonely people are being befriended, that is where the Church is, and that is what a local church looks like. It has nothing to do with the building, and everything to do with what goes on inside the building.

I'm not saying that I don't appreciate beautiful church architecture. I think that churches should be aesthetically attractive, if at all possible. But I also think that such things should be fairly low on our list of priorities.

When we allow petty, unbiblical preconceptions about what a church looks like and how a church ought to operate to stand in the way of meeting people's real needs, then we have lost Christ's vision for what a church can be and ought to be. It is therefore time that we put aside such preconceptions in order to realign our priorities with Christ's priorities. It is time that we stop giving mere lip service to the idea of being the "family of God" and start acting as if we actually care about the needs and the welfare of every one of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

By the way, I have not given up on my ideas regarding Body Power News. Now more than ever, I believe that such a publication is badly needed. The Internet makes it more financially feasible than ever before to begin such a venture. In all probability, the publication (which will include articles as well as classified ads and display ads) will be distributed online in the form of regularly published and updated PDF files which can be downloaded by visitors to the website containing links to those files. So keep visiting this website and others with which I am associated in order to watch for future developments along those lines. Or feel free to send me an e-mail message in order to express your interest in the project.

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