That’s the question rolling through my head right now. What would an “ideal” church look like? Maybe the question should be altered a bit though – sounds a bit too focused on the building. How about this instead – What would the “ideal” church culture be? You could alter this as well to get at the idea I’m driving at.
Here’s what I think of when I think of the “ideal” church.
1. The people. The people in my “ideal” church would look like everyone else – some who have their act together and some who don’t. Some who accompany those who are struggling. Some who are considered outsiders by the rest of society. Some who are insiders. Some who are successful by worldly standards and some who are poor. Some who are wise beyond their years and some just learning about life. There would be old, young and everything in-between. There would be people from the community where the church was located – skin color would be as diverse as the community. There would be a healthy diversity of thought on a variety of topics from politics, theology, etc. There would be people who have traveled the world and those who have never left the county they grew up in. There would be married, single, divorced. There would be others too, but I’ll stop here – the list could get quite long.
That’s a great deal of diversity. But, let me be clear – it’s not diversity for the sake of being diverse. And in my “ideal” church, the focus wouldn’t be on what makes us different. One of the reasons we gather together as a church is to focus on what draws us together in our diversity – Christ. We each bring value to the church. We each bring our own skills, talents and callings. We bring them as other do. We would gather together, empower each other, share what we have been given and be a community of believers sharing in true communion with one another.
2. The culture. This may be dangerous, but I’d give it a try. We’d have a culture that could be characterized by the phrase “yes, and.” So many churches today are so organizationally focused that bringing any change to the church is sometimes harder than changing a government program. That should not be the case. Thom Schultz wrote a great article on this just this week.
Instead I would start with the assumption that ideas from the community within the church should be tried. The burden of proof not to do them should be on the No side. I would add though that where church leadership can provide some guidance is in helping to bring focus to an idea or of helping the people bring the idea into alignment with the Gospel. This might look like church leadership supporting a project and offering some questions for clarification. An example of this might be supporting a feeding program for the poor in the community. A great idea and something that we are called to do as a church. The guidance might come in asking how the people who are to receive the food are not looked down upon as less than the people giving the food out. How can such a program ensure that the people receiving the food are seen as having value, not just recipients who we take pity on as if they are less than us.
3. The building. This is where I may be a bit radical for some. Church building are wonderful – or can be. Having spent the last year in Europe, I’ve seen some incredible church buildings. There are positives and negatives to that. They are beautiful – that’s a positive. But they are also museums – that’s not what a church should be.
Too often the people in a church become attached to the building – almost making it an idol. Just sit in someone’s pew one morning or try to move something that Mrs. Smith gave the church 100 years ago. The church building is a tool – not the object of our worship. If a church building were destroyed, we would still have a church. My ideal church building would change every so often. The interior would change. Maybe the color, or the location of the pews, or from pews to seats, or removing a communion rail or adding one, or… you get the idea. Again, there wouldn’t be change for the sake of change. Why upset people when it is unnecessary?
The point is get away from being attached to the stuff in the church, but rather being attached to the person and message of Jesus. A church can be a great tool to assist us in worship. But it can also be a hindrance. My “ideal” church would use the building as a tool. And as a side note – the building would be used throughout the week for a variety of things, some not related to church.
4. Organizational structure. I believe that the church exists to support the community of believers, not the other way around. If that’s the case, then the structure of how stuff gets done in the church would look different from most churches. There would be no standing committees. There would have to be a church council for legal reasons, and they would meet as often as was necessary.
“But what about the upcoming annual strawberry festival the church has?” Great question. Who says things have to be done in committee? When’s the last time work, ministry, decisions actually happened in a committee or in a committee meeting? Not often – that’s how often. So often we think that committees and meetings are the ways of getting things done. They are potentially one way of doing things, if the person leading them knows how to run a meeting or committee, but they are not the only way.
What happens when a need arises in the church? What if a small team were named to tackle the need and when they were done, so was the team? What if people in the church saw the need and just started tackling it without any formal committee or group being needed at all? What if…
The point is, sometimes organizational structures can be helpful, and sometimes they are more of a hindrance. It depends on the culture of the church. It also depends on if the committee remains faithful to why it exists.
5. Foundation. This might be the most important point, as far as I’m concerned. Why does this church exist? That question would underlie everything else and I would be asking this question and I would hope that others in the church would ask this question often too. The answer to that question would determine the organizational structure, what the building looked like and how it was used, the culture of the church, and yes, who’s showing up at church for various things.
Without a solid foundation, the rest of the church will collapse under pressure.
So what would your “ideal” church look like? More importantly, why doesn’t it look like this? And even more importantly, what are you going to do about that? You can complain, which really only means that you don’t believe you can do anything about it. Or you can take some steps. Yeah, you might upset some people, but if it’s important, then it’s worth it. Some food for thought.