When Our Boxes Becomes Idols

“If you build it they will come” has been the mantra of the past thirty years known as the church growth movement.  In reality this is often times true and there is certainly nothing wrong with buildings when our motivations are proper.  As I venture beyond the local church I am providing coaching and consulting for pastor’s of young and fast growing churches.  They typically have a weekend attendance between 400 and 1000, they are less than ten years old, and they enjoy an incredible moment. Their key issues are space, finances and staffing.  I’m sure this doesn’t surprise you.

The reality is they need to expand their space somehow if they are going to sustain momentum.  This expansion of space will require at least one of three possible solutions: going to multiple services, going multi-site, or the expansion of space.  In other words, build a bigger box to handle the crowd.

As a consultant my recommendation is often expand your space.  However, when expanding your space, do so with caution.  Building is costly and most churches spend tens of thousands, hundred of thousands, and even millions of dollars (depending of the size of project) more than needed.  As the church we should be doing everything within our abilities to leverage ministry dollars for life change, caring for those in our own community and around the world who have both spiritual and physical needs.

Order Matters

However, my bigger concern isn’t space or the cost of it.  These days I find I’m most concerned about ORDER.  As a follower of Jesus who is engaged in the missional conversation that so many are chattering about, I am deeply concerned when it comes to the lens through which we see the church.  Jesus tells us in Mark 2:22, and no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins (NLT).  In other words when the wineskin is set and new wine is poured in, it bursts the skin.  New wine requires new skins.  The church doesn’t inform Christ.  Christ informs the church.

A common discussion on the missiological front is which comes first ecclesiology or Christology?  Or stated which come first, the “chicken” or the “egg”.  The common response “it doesn’t matter” is radically erroneous in this context.  Order does matter!  The Catholic Church of the middle ages is a prime example of what happens when our ecclesiology is given authority outside of or even over Jesus.  We find ourselves as street vendors selling indulgences.

The church is the offspring of Jesus.  While writing Detox for the Overly Religious, I read and re-read the Gospels over and over again.   During one such reading I read with an eye tilted toward what Jesus had to say about the church.  Jesus was strangely silent when it came to the church.  Upon further reading an image emerges out of the Epistles, especially Paul’s writings.  The image that emerged was of the church as the “body of Christ”.

Here is why this is important.  When we begin with our ecclesiology and especially an ecclesiology that includes a box where people gather and consume their religious preferences, disciples take on a certain quality.  Often servants are transformed into door greeters and parking lot attenders.  Nothing wrong with that, but it certainly shouldn’t be the end of what it means to be a disciple.  In this context our pastors become administrators instead of spiritual elders who guide the church into a world of radical missional adventure that can only be defined by one’s redemptive imagination set on blaze by the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, when we begin with Christology, Jesus redefines what it means to a disciple as a community of believers called the church.  Instead of crowding into a building to hear the latest top ten Christian songs and an upbeat message about how to improve your life, we find these little Jesus’ in every nook and cranny of society impregnating it with the hope of the Gospel.  We meet in homes, in schools, in abandoned warehouses, in parks, in community centers, under bridges, in soup kitchens, under tents in war torn countries, in big cathedrals, and buildings designed specifically for the church.  However, at the end of the day we are the body of Christ.  This is what happens when you begin with Jesus!  Jesus forms our ecclesiology and our boxes, in whatever form or shape they come, become servants to our master, not idols to contend with.

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2 responses to “When Our Boxes Becomes Idols

  1. I’m curious, given the title of your post and some other things you have to say, why you would be compelled to comment, “they need to expand their space somehow if they are going to sustain momentum.”

    This seems to be the default answer of modern megachurches (all of which would claim to “put Jesus first”) and a debilitating misnomer.

    If Christology really is prior to ecclesiology (and I’m not entirely sure that’s fully possible – who after all is developing Christology but the already existant Body of Christ?), and if discipleship is really at the heart of the matter, it would seem that the way to encourage momentum isn’t the construction of additional space, but the outward mobilization of disciples.

    It would seem to me that when a passionate heart for the world is in the mix, it’s less space, not more that ramps up the value for discipleship.

    • Thanks for taking time to read and reflect on my thoughts. The issues you raise are key issues for the church as we move forward. I’m going to address them in my upcoming post. Keep the conversation going…it is an important one.

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