“Describe the Nature and Mission of the church. What are its primary tasks today?”
Candidates for Ordination in the United Methodist Church are asked this question. It is a good question. In reviewing how I addressed that question 3 years ago, I still believe a lot of the things I said. “The nature of the church is like that of Jesus Christ, the one it represents. It is both human and divine. And that combination is both its power and its liability. The Church is the community of persons in all ages, in all eras of time, who are dedicated to the life, teachings, purpose and work of Jesus Christ.” I described the tasks of the church in terms of worship, study, service and fellowship. With the epoch change taking place in American Christianity right now–the growth of the nones, the contraction of the institutional church, the contraction of Christendom as a political force, the social changes challenging the church and the existential crisis in our societal purpose–the design of the church becomes crucial to her purpose. Whereas the nature of the church is consistent over time, the look, feel and experience of the church must be fluid. The design of the church is a major part of the delivery system of the gospel. It’s a bit cliche to say ‘meet people where they are’. The design of the church not only meets people where they are but also crafts a process by which people can experience God’s grace and commit their lives to Jesus. The Methodist Societies of the 18th century were not presenting a new gospel, they were crafting a new process by which people could experience the gospel. The Methodist class meeting was as genius for its design as it was for its purpose. To reach today’s generation, how might we design church to both meet people where they are and craft a process by which they can fall in love with Jesus? This is the question.
Perkatory is one answer.
Perkatory is My (Current) Dream Church. It is a church that does not yet exist but I wish it did. Not only do I wish this church existed, I want to be appointed as pastor of this church. Perkatory is a Cafe Church. It’s not a church with a cafe. It is a Cafe Church. It is a place in which people can get coffee, maybe a tasty pastry, enjoy some free wi-fi. And through this basic, regular experience–which people seek out daily–an introduction to Jesus is made. Perkatory is a place of community, comfort, learning, engagement, service and discipleship. Perkatory is fun. It is engaging. It is user friendly. Perkatory also invites people to experience God’s grace and follow Jesus. Perkatory takes a conceptual angle to church, which is hinted in the name. First of all, I need to confess that I ripped this name off from the weekend coffeehouse at my alma mater. So, thank Weeks: Years later, I dig the name. But Perkatory exists with a focus on in-between matters that plague people’s lives and souls. Perkatory would seek to engage the nones, as well as the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd. Perkatory would help people deal with legitimate dilemmas in their lives and in our world. WE would be socially conscious as well as personally engaging. For instance, we would have a real commitment to diversity. This would be reflected in our employment standards (which is the norm anyhow), but we would also engage our community in embracing diversity as a moral choice. We would have a strong interest in greeting immigrants and newcomers to the area…those in between homes. Personally, this is where faith becomes fun: when tough matters are addressed and honored.
Why a Cafe Church?
Quite simply, people aren’t going to traditional church. Certainly not where I am serving, and even in more churched places, attendance is poor and the church’s impact is even poorer. My take is if the church is addressing people’s real spiritual needs, there will always be an audience! It’s not as if people have stopped asking deep existential questions. They’re simply not asking us anymore. People have found more accessible, more friendly and more respectful people to ask. Rather than blame secularism, youth culture, gays, Muslims, Republicans/Democrats, etc., the church has the responsibility to unearth the spiritual needs of its neighbors and provide relief. I’m also thinking of a Cafe Church in terms of ecclesiology–that’s a fancy word for ‘understanding, definition or concept of church’. Ecclesiology is what ordination boards are trying to understand when they ask the question at the top. If I were to ask candidates for their ecclesiology, I would ask them to describe their dream church. Methodism, after all, does have a strong pragmatic streak. I would give bonus points for candidates who gave considerable thought to the design of their dream church. Churches don’t exist in theory only. They exist in contexts and ideals, and in the passions of those who create and attend them. So I am thinking up this dream church to practice my own ecclesiology. I am dreaming up this dream church, Perkatory, in the following ways:
- Ministry Principles
- Discipleship Model
- Community Context
- Prophetic Presence
- Pastoral Presence
- Service & Mission
Additionally, I come to this dream through both personal and professional experiences and ambitions. I will offer a work about how and why I am thinking of church this way.
YOUR TURN: I’d love to hear of your Dream Church. Please share in the comments, or link to your own writing. Dream On!