Posts Tagged 'Gate'

Got Gates?

“I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for…I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”—Jesus

“I don’t think we need bigger churches; the church needs more entry points.” –Rev. Julian DeShazier // J.Kwest, Senior Pastor of University Church in ChicagoEntrance-logo_ellipse-1024x381

Last Sunday we went to an unfamiliar church. We’ve worshiped there a few times in recent years when we visited a longtime friend. We arrived and headed for the sanctuary to meet our friend–but we couldn’t find our way. We’d entered the large older building from a different direction. A helpful person quickly noticed our disorientation and showed us the correct door. It’s one of those doors you can’t see until someone points it out, and then you can’t miss it.

Our home church has great signage and very clear entrances to the sanctuary. Its physical layout is mostly visitor-friendly.  But that historic old church (100+ years), our newer church (30 years), and  many thousands more share the same struggle with entry points. Can folks find their way into and around the building easily? Does our physical, program, and online presence offer sufficient accessible “entry points” for newcomers? Do the first humans those newcomers meet embody Jesus’ caring welcome to “more and better life”? Most churches today face a fundamental survival/mission issue: Is our church a closed club or an open community? Is church primarily for us, the “faithful”, or for “them”, the outsiders who don’t even know which end of a Bible is up?

Two recent experiences have stirred me to think anew about this ancient struggle (see Acts 11:1-18). The day before that church visit, Dianna and I attended a “Messy Church” workshop. “Messy Church” isn’t about how to keep the church cleaner, or even how to disappear that mountain of sacred junk in the desperately-overstuffed Holy of Holies closet. “Messy Church” is a British response to a drastic decline in worship attendance and church participation. It offers an informal, approximately monthly experience designed to be “church” without being churchy. While each “messy church” is customized for its own setting, every Messy Church includes

  • A relaxed welcome time with drinks and snacks
  • An activity-based learning time with Bible-based crafts, games, competitions, prayers, etc.
  • A short celebration that usually includes Bible story, song, and prayer
  • A sit-down meal for everyone.

Every Messy Church expresses the values of

  • Christ-centeredness—the spirit that underlies the entire two-hour experience.
  • Hospitality—“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7 NRSV)
  • Creativity—Making use of everyone’s God-given gifts in order to learn and discover new insights about each session’s theme.
  • Celebration—Short (15 min.) and interactive, usually including song, story, and prayer
  • All-age—Generations participate together and learn from one another; each generation’s needs are balanced and addressed in activities.

Messy Church is designed to reach folks on the margins who might never attend a traditional church. It provides an “entry point”, not necessarily into traditional Sunday-based church, but into a Christian community and into the journey of following Jesus together. Messy Church doesn’t speak to everyone. It speaks powerfully to some who aren’t being reached any other way.

That brings me to the second “trigger” for this piece. Recently I read a piece by Rev. Julian DeShazier, pastor of University Church on Chicago’s South Side. He says that historically rough community is even “more traumatic” these days…“—and the First Responders to that trauma are the churches he calls “the primary caregivers in the community”. [How’s that for a start on a mission statement!?] He’s clear that his traumatized neighbors need more than Sunday sermons. The difference-maker for them, he says, is “…art that speaks in the language of whatever public we serve; as an entry point, an invitation to experience something deeper”

The art that speaks to Julian DeShazier—also known as “J.Kwest”– and his Southside neighbors is Hip-hop. “If it weren’t for hip-hop”, he writes, “I wouldn’t be in the church, period. What I later heard from some great pastors, I first heard from some dope emcees and gifted songwriters whose songs are described by church folk as “indecent” and “improper” and “unorthodox”. They are, and I thank God for them, because those were my burning bushes…I ended up back in the church because the most popular rapper at school was in the cafeteria free-styling about God and told me about his church, and the youth pastor said I could perform too if I had a story to tell. Neither BreevEazie nor Rev. James preached a sermon. Their art invited me in.

“Art that speaks…the language…an entry point, an invitation to experience something deeper.”  What “entry points” suggest themselves to you? Hiphop;  country western; light-rock praise music; come-as-you-are all-age informality; Taize music; Quaker-style silence; elaborate structured liturgy with organ and robed choir and clergy;cowboy church; simple outdoor worship in a camp or park setting.

Careful listening, prayerful reflection, and creative dreaming will lead us toward the best solution for our particular setting. But you and I are the key “entry points”. We’re the “gates” through which others begin to discover Jesus, “the Gate for the sheep”. (John 10:6) Those “Messy Church” values—Christ-centered, hospitality, creativity, celebration, including all ages and stages—fit wherever God’s people gather. They’re signs of that “real and eternal, more and better life” that is God’s will for us and all people, and his gift to us in Christ.child-opening-gate-23111804

I hear our Risen Lord asking his church in all its manifestations today: “Got gates?” He cares far less than we think about how big our churches are. He cares far more than we know about how open we and our churches are.


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