Sunday, November 8, 2009

Walls or Windows

I recently read a quote by Bill Tenny-Brittian, “To say the church exists to serve the needs of the churched is like saying McDonalds exists to serve hamburgers to its employees.”

I then tweeted that quote and got a few heated replies to it.

One reply informed me that the church actually does serve its members. Well, that’s true. But that isn’t the opposite of what the quote is saying.

Another reply informed me of the definition of “church” in the Lutheran Confessions, where it says that the church is “where God’s word is taught in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution.” I can’t argue with that, either, except to say that this is also not opposite of what this quote is saying.

What Bill Tenny-Brittian is saying is that the church cannot hope to thrive if all it does is meet the needs of its members and ignores the unchurched (or unsaved, if you prefer – he means the same thing, I think). The analogy is a McDonalds that only serves hamburgers to its employees. If it does that, it won’t stay in business very long. It is also against company policy, I would think. McDonalds exists to bring hamburgers to everyone, not just its employees.

So also, the Church exists to “make disciples of all nations.” Churches that simply meet the needs of their own members are sometimes called “maintenance ministries” and they are very small, and growing smaller by the year, congregations.

This led to me think about church architecture, of all things. Most of the churches I’ve been to have more walls than windows (probably sound architectural design) and the windows they have are stained glass – you can’t see in or out of them. The windows may be beautiful, but they don’t function as a window in that you can’t see out of them. They do let light in, that’s true. And when the light is filtered through the colored glass it is very beautiful.

But I was once in a church that decided that to illuminate the stained glass windows so that they could be seen at night. A good idea. But what they ended up doing was illuminating the outside so that those on the inside could see the window. Those outside only saw a bright light shining on the stained glass but couldn’t see the beauty of the picture.

I think the best design for a church would be for it to be made of clear glass walls so that two things could happen. The outside world could see in and see the people of God worshipping Him and receiving His gifts. They could see the Holy gifts given to a Holy people (holy people in the truest sense of the word – set apart for a special purpose, not in the sense of perfect).

But a church with clear glass walls would also allow the people inside to be able to see the outside world as well. The world they are told to go out into (but not be of – John 17).

One person pointed out a similar observation to me. He asked me if I had noticed which way the doors to the church opened. He pointed out that they open “out” as in to let people out into the world to make disciples.

All analogies break down if you take them far enough, and this one surely will as well. But it is important to understand that our calling as disciples of Jesus is to go out into the world bringing the Gospel to them. We cannot hide behind closed doors, stained glass windows and brick walls.

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