Is buying a building or inhabiting a building always contra being missional? Upon first instinct, the answer would be yes. Certainly missional gatherings would hesitate investing in a traditional church building. But are there times when inhabiting a building might itself be incarnational according to missional logic?
One positive thing about the end of modernity is that truth can not be held captive by the rational, the strictly representational, the logocentric. It must be embodied. And so we, who live in these times, naturally resist any attempts to strip truth of its embodiment. For some missional church folk, this speaks the Incarnation. Missional living, we say, must be incarnational.
But if truth is to be embodied, if we are not going to be limited to engaging God only with words, if beauty is to be a category for truth, then we have to embody ourselves in a physical presense in the community. This might mean inhabiting a building. I am sure many, perhaps the majority, of missional communities will gravitate towards meeting in homes. Yet, if taking up embodiment in a community will require that this community see us, watch our way of life, see they way we welcome and engage the hurting, see God in our architecture, our meals, our artwork and worship, there might be times when we take residence a place that is visible to the community. I know this goes against all missional thinking, so I am just asking, at what point does a building become incarnational? At what point does a building which embodies ministry to the poor, the art of the Story and grandeur of God, the sacred space of His presense, whereby we practice reconciliation by the very conmfirgurement of the furniature, become incarnational?
I understand the resistance of missional churches to own buildings. They are cumbersome, require resourses, and often push the church into an “attractional mentality” as opposed to a missional/incarnational one where the church is dispersed into the world of engagement. This is all good. But I argue that there are times and places (not all times and all places) where buildings, sanctuaries, physical architectural embodiments of the Body of Christ, might be the very expression of such an incarnational inhabiting community. In other words part of incarnation might be the very brick and mortar, architecture, and sacred space we gather which exemplifies and points all who would see toward the reality of God.
There might be therefore, a stage in the development of certain missional communities when a building of some sort makes sense. Some of our best examples of missional communities have made investment in such buildings (Solomon’s Porch MN, Jacob’s Well MO). We might need buildings, indeed buildings that resist the appearance that Christ is another thing for distribution at a Walmart. Please not a big box church. We might need a building where artists render the theology of our life together upon its space. We might need a building to feed the poor, to give sanctuary to the victimized. We might need a physical space that wipes the blank stare off modern people’s eyes to see a reoriented world under the Lordship of Christ.
To all those who meet in houses, I am sure all of this can be done in a house gathering. It is just as possible that art, meal, archichecture, furniature, everthing can embody the incarnational Christ in a living room. But sometimes it might be ok to say, you just need a building. Not for some large big box grandiosity where the sign of the cross is not visible. Not for some monstrous spending that dwarfs and disfigures the surrounding community with corporate presense. But a church inhabiting the community which visibly embodies the life of Christ in our midst. I think sometimes (not all the times, and it requires discernment) such a building is incarnational.
I think of all of the dying vestiges of a past churchlife in the cities where the life of His Body once lived but somehow died or moved on – where the old buildings are left empty in city neighbourhoods desperately needing a visible witness of the new life made possible in Christ. As long as the missional incarnational DNA remains, I say these buildings might be the very places for a re-incarnation of the gospel.
Our church started in a church building left after the previous church was closed. We filled it with art, camped out on its property, and now seek to engage the community from its launching pad. It provides the base for the Presense in the bland suburbs. In the midst of the urban landscape, and especially the suburbs, there may be times (not all the time) when such old buildings provide the basis for a uniqiue physical presense? What do you think?.
Next time I’ll post on “Beauty and Incarnational: Contrary Thoughts on Being Incarnational 2” and the next time after that – “The Centrality of the Gathering-Eucharist Formation: Contrary Thoughts on Being Incarnational 3.”