It is only occasionally that the New Years begins on a Sunday. I wish you all a Happy New Year.
This is my 10th entry. I would restate my original premise. In this blog, I am projecting a model of the church for the followers of Jesus. Following the commitment of a Reformed Tradition, I believe my vision is guided by the teachings of scripture. In projecting a model of the church, I do not intend to criticize how the church has been. Neither do I intend to argue the point. Consider the church projected in this blog a photograph of how I see the church in the future.
So far, I have written nothing that would seem especially challenging to the status quo. But this entry has given me pause. The image I project of what I am calling the Reforming Church has evolved from years of working in declining congregations in the urban/metropolitan context. I have been both humbled and saddened by the decline of once thriving congregations. To be sure, their origins had been inspired by an epiphany with enough energy to grow great congregations. Over the years, however, these congregations declined until their last bit of energies went into survival mode, in the end, willing to give almost anything to preserve the sanctuary – the brick and mortar. In effect, their mission would become little more than the upkeep of the sanctuary. Some of these congregations would actually end up closing, some after more than 100 years of continual service. Yet, some, by bequeath, would amass an endowment to fund the facility maintenance. Even still, some of these congregations continued to decline in numbers.
I always rejoiced when a congregation was able to reconnect its mission with the community, invariably inspired by a new epiphany. And it happens, thankfully.
The key to me seems to be that congregations need to continually refresh their mission/outreach connection to the community in which they are located. Even still, in the urban/metropolitan context, it is nearly prohibitively to provide for the constant financial needs of facility maintenance, even with a thriving congregation.
I hope what follows inspires more creative ideas than I have. Short of that, I hope it inspires some discussion. To be sure, if I am projecting a photograph, it is one that is blurred by double exposure.
The Reforming Church finds a sustainable place to gather to worship and prepare for its mission. But more importantly, the Reforming Church will no longer be distracted with issues of facility maintenance and repair. All of the energies and financial offerings of the Followers of Jesus are focused on the Church’s mission of outreach in the community.
On the whole, the Reforming Church gathers as small groups in homes. There the Followers of Jesus worship and prepare for its mission to the community and the world. These small worship communities are not necessarily clergy led. What’s more, as scripture teaches that there is an indelible link between worship and mission (Isaiah 1:12-17, Amos 5:21-24) these small worship communities might gather around a common commitment to service and are then able to offer their service in worship.
Having said this, when the followers of Jesus decide that a dedicated building is essential to its worship and mission there are a number of important considerations to guide a congregation. Consideration should be given to other similar buildings in proximity. As building costs are significant, as a practice of stewardship, these buildings are shared, enabling a congregation of the Followers of Jesus, as much as possible to keep the focus on worship and mission. This means that they are accessible to a number of small worship communities that gather in homes as well as to the community. Basically, these buildings are never locked, being in use hour-by-hour, day-by-day, as guided by the need to worship and serve, specifically, outreach to its community and neighborhood.
When raising funds for a new building, dollar for dollar, building costs should be matched so as to endow janitorial, maintenance and repair into perpetuity. Endowing these post building costs, the Church’s mission will not be diminished by these costs in the future.
Congregations of the Followers of Jesus who gather in these special buildings are aware of their neighbors and the special concerns of their neighborhood. Basically, these congregations are good neighbors. In that vein, these congregations accept the full burden of their shared responsibility along with their neighbors for the well-being of the neighborhood. These congregations pay their fair share, either by fee or tax, the costs essential to maintaining the neighborhood’s values.
As to a sacred space, as these building may not have a dedicated space that is considered sacred, any notable symbols that are necessary to claiming a space as sacred are mobile. In this way, whether it is worship, or fellowship, or study, or business, in whatever space these occur, the symbols of faith are present.
In summary, Followers of Jesus, on the whole gather in homes or in spaces that accommodate small worship communities. As the occasional need arises for a special dedicated building, these buildings are shared buildings, occupied by a congregation, worshiping communities, and the community, especially attuned to the needs of their immediate neighborhood, sharing all the burdens of being a neighbor. Any scared space is mobile.