Saturday, January 24, 2009


In an interesting post on buildings argues for "spaceless churches" that put their money into mission and ministry and not into building and pipe organs. As a pastor of a church without a pipe organ (the past three had them) but a lovely building, I want to challenge that thought. First of all, it's a bit gnostic. It assumes an incarnationless style of ministry that has now shell, no housing, no place in time and history. It sounds urban and edgy to materialize in some temporary place for a while then dissolve back into the community, leaving no architectural footprint. Yes, that is appealing for a church like ours that carries a $7,000+ monthly mortgage. That could support some significant staffing or sent overseas, carry whole ministries.
But, we are creatures of space. We inhabit houses and cities. Our space sends messages and signals about availability and presence. It opens us to both criticism and to questions. In the past year, our ministry space became a central location for a community rocked by devastating fires, in search of an Al Anon location, a place for Sheriffs and policemen to play basketball, a place where gang members can be creatively mentored with basketball, a place where children can learn music after school, and a place where members of "buildingless" churches really want their daughters to be married.
Yeah, keeping up a building requires a lot of work that is less-than-spiritual. Talking about parking lot conditions is not a devotional high point. But it is also very much a challenge of incarnational stewardship. Jesus used synagogues in addition to the hills and paths. He loved the Jerusalem Temple even though he criticized the abuses within it.
I will bless my eager friends who wish to pursue buildingless ministries. But when you need a wedding or funeral, give me a call.


At 5:05 AM , Blogger Sam Davidson said...


First off, thanks for reading and writing about my article. I'm glad it resonated with you in some way.

Secondly, I'd say that a church like yours gets the point of having a building. My article was more aimed at communities that pay $7k a month in a mortgage, only to use that building 4 hours a month! Your church, however, sounds like it's really using its physical presence to engage the community - so congrats on that.

I hope more churches can follow your lead and really think creatively on how to use their space by inviting in other groups from the community who need a space to meet or belong.

At 5:49 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Thanks Sam for taking time to comment. "Getting it" is the big challenge for every church and every pastor in his/her unique setting. I'm not sure that we are there yet, but I sense God pulling us in that direction.

At 6:22 PM , Blogger Rev Steve said...

Don, I appreciate your blog with insights and reflections on ministry in our changing mission field. As one who came from the Congregational side into the Covenant I liked your last post. The building the church met in was called, "The Meeting House" in New England. It was on the center of "The Green." Both civic and sacred meetings were held in the Meeting House to serve the community. Today we need to WORK to make the church building useful for the betterment of the wider community. Our facilities cost money to maintain and are not good stewardship when only used a couple hours a week. When the church building can become "community centers" we can be salt and light for others. Thanks again for your sharing your thoughts on ministry in these changing times. I'll look for you at Midwinter.

At 8:29 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Dear STeve; Thanks for your thoughts. I look forward to getting together with you sometime at the Midwinter!!


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