November 13, 2007

How To Build A Church

Emergent Village posted a link to an excerpt preview of Intiuitive Leadership, the unreleased book by Tim Keel, pastor of Jacob's Well church in Kansas City, Missouri. First, you should read the preview. But one passage from his chapter called "A Modest Proposal" really jumped out and grabbed me, and I wanted to share it here.

In that chapter he talks for a while about how people always want to emulate other ministries. Look at what's "working" or what's "successful", find out why, and then copy it--that's the most common model of modern church-building. Part of the buzz surrounding the "emerging church" is generated from just that -- an attitude of "ooh how can WE do that too?" Is "emergent" just the next fad in a long line of cutting-edge ministry strategies?

Keel's suggestion is a simple one: Maybe we should stop trying to emulate the newest cutting-edge ministries and just try to seek God? He quotes a passage by Thomas Merton about architecture and the ability of monastic communities to create beautiful buildings. Even though the topic was a bit different, the meaning is eerily on target for our current church climate. Merton writes,

The perfection of the twelfth-century Cistercian architecture is not to be explained by saying that the Cistercians were looking for a new technique. I am not sure they were looking for a new technique at all. They built good churches because they were looking for God. And they were looking for God in a way that was pure and integral enough to make everything they did and everything they touched give glory to God.

We cannot reproduce what they did because we approach the problem in a way that makes it impossible for us to find a solution. We ask ourselves a question that they never considered. How shall we build a beautiful monastery according to the style of some past age and according to the rules of a dead tradition? Thus we make the problem not only infinitely complicated but we make it, in fact, unsolvable. Because a dead style is a dead style. And the reason why it is dead is that the motives that once gave it life have ceased to exist. They have given place to a situation that demands another style. If we were intent upon loving God rather than upon getting a Gothic church out of a small budget we would soon put up something that would give glory to God and would be very simple and would also be in the tradition of our fathers.1,2(emphasis mine)

The relevance of that passage, especially the part I bolded, gives me chills.

1Excerpt from Thomas Merton's The Sign of Jonas (1953).
2Excerpt originally quoted in Tim Keel's Intuitive Leadership (not yet released).

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