We’re knee-deep into Phase II, a building project at our production facility in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. We’re expanding into empty warehouse space to extend our main theatre, build new youth and kids auditoriums and finish support space to serve all our sites. Just a little summer project!
One of our first steps was to identify our requirements. What seating capacity do we need? Where are the lockdown zones? Where do we need windows and doors? Since I lead the charge for audio, video and lighting, my requirements include fun terms like “4.5 GHz sweep tested HD-SDI”, “higher gain before feedback” and “separately processed amplifier feeds”. And, of course, there’s a budget requirement too!
But how do all these details fit into the big picture? Our mission at The Meeting House is “to grow as a community-transforming church to see more people’s lives radically changed by Jesus in our church family, in our communities, and around the world.” How does my high-bandwidth coax cable transform a community? How does the Colour Reproduction Index of my LED house lights reach the world with Jesus’ message?
The Lord said to Moses … have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. – Exodus 25:1-9
After bringing the Israelites out of Egypt the Lord, through Moses, instructed them to build a Tabernacle. Chapters 25-30 of the book of Exodus outline God’s requirements for the Ark of the Covenant, the order of priests, the priestly garments, furnishings and the tents themselves in exhaustive detail. These were the requirements of a model, a way of relating to God that worked for a particular time, place and people. God’s mission, however, was much bigger than the Tabernacle project. Let me suggest that this mission is found in the Lord’s statement “… and I will dwell among them”. From the beginning God’s mission has been to to dwell with his people.
The word of the Lord came to Solomon: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them … I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.” – 1 Kings 6:11
Four hundred and eighty years later Solomon built the first Temple. Now this is interesting – while God actively micromanaged the tabernacle, he gave no instructions on how to build the temple! In fact, the passage reads like a non-sequitur. God’s requirements for the temple don’t seem to be related to the temple at all. Instead, he asks for obedience. The Temple project was Solomon’s model, but God’s mission to dwell with his people remained the same.
Now this is the part where I draw a comparison between my church expansion and the temple to make a fantastic point about how to align our model with God’s model.
The problem is, the tabernacle and the temple have no connection to my building expansion. The Holy of Holies is not the historical basis for our “Main Theatre”. The courtyard is not an ancient prototype for our parking lot. And the Ephod may have been woven from multicoloured yarn, but it didn’t influence my decision to wear plaid on Sunday.
[Also, our executive pastor’s house isn’t five times the size of our church building. See 1 Kings 6 and 7 – Solomon had a big palace!]
You see, our building isn’t the new temple. We are. God accomplished his mission through Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, “God with us,” so we don’t need a building or a system to relate to God. We are “living stones” of a new temple and Jesus is the cornerstone. We are a “royal priesthood” with direct access to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-9). Because of Jesus’ work on our behalf, God’s requirements for his mission become a whole lot simpler. Notice I didn’t say easier, after all it was Jesus who equated anger with murder, lust with adultery and warned us we may lose our lives! Under the Old Covenant, God listed his requirements and said “do this”. In the New Covenant, Jesus shows us God’s requirements and says “follow me” (Matthew 4:19, 16:24, 19:21 and twenty other places).
Our painted concrete floors are a requirement of our model. Our theatre-style seats, projection screens and choice of audio console are all requirements of our model. And let me pull back the curtain a bit – we chose our model! In community and in submission to Christ we decided how to do church at The Meeting House. And we’re shifting that model all the time!
I have been a pastor’s kid, grand-kid, nephew, husband and I happen to be a pastor myself now. In the last nine years I’ve worked for three churches of very different sizes and budgets! I have known the freedom that comes from of letting go of one particular way of doing church. It happened for me when I realized that the church is the people, not the building. Then when I realized again that the church is the people, not the building. Then when I realized again but this time for real that the church is the people, not the building. It’s a hard thing to do when we keep building these things, but I don’t think God’s quite done with church buildings yet, so we need to figure it out!
The old phrase “strong opinions, weakly held” describes wisdom that acts decisively but remains open to change. It’s a value I try to incorporate in my work. For me, it could be deciding between Cat6 and shielded Cat5 cable or which video resolution to standardize on. For others, it’s deciding where to launch a new site or how to reconfigure a staff team. We’ve all been given gifts. We’ve all been given an area of influence. Our task is to use our gifts to the best of our ability in our area of influence. When we do that, we’re acting as the body of Christ, regardless of the model of our church. I think the Church has a pretty clear mission, and God’s mission hasn’t changed.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20