Tuesday, October 30, 2007

CentrePointe Lives On...

In January of 2007, I was part of a decision to close a church plant, CentrePointe, in Kentwood, MI. This "coffeehouse in a warehouse" church was the best faith community I have ever been a part of. It was creative, experimental, talented, had a heart for lost and unusual and "discarded" people, and was a safe place for smart people to explore spirituality on their own terms at their own pace. We would call off worship quarterly just to serve in the community on Sunday mornings. The worship was often gripping, and we did not shy away from difficult topics. For 5 years, I led the worship design team, a team of teams which brainstormed the worship service every week from Tuesday to Sunday - and along the way we designed some very unusual, compelling worship experiences. Many church planters got their feet wet at CentrePointe, and we can point to 17 families that are now on staff at churches or church plants who spent time in ministry at CentrePointe.

For many reasons, not the least of which was financial, we felt called to close our doors. We were without a pastor for the third time in our 11-year history, some key leaders and givers had moved away, our strip mall lease had escalated beyond our shrinking means, there was a tragic divorce between two key leaders, and a number of other leaders were on the verge of resigning because they were plain tuckered out. Some onlookers in our denomination felt it was about time the "black sheep" church wrap up its crazy experiment, yet others felt we were the best thing going and were more apt to say, "How dare you shut it down!" We prayerfully decided to give all of our stuff and people to another denominational church plant that appeared to have similar values to our own. This was hardest on people who had come to faith at CentrePointe, and who couldn't fathom being part of another faith community. Not everyone has stuck it out at the new place, but many have.

Last week I received a request from Eileen Crowley, editor of Liturgy Magazine, to use an image from a CentrePointe worship service in her publication. This was a service we designed around the song "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence. The text we used was the story of the 4 guys who brought their paralyzed friend to life by busting through a roof and lowering him into the presence of Jesus. We suspended a mat in the space and had modern-day construction debris strewn about and as centerpieces on the cafe tables. The band rocked the song to within inches of the radio version. We were challenged to go out and that week thank the people in our lives who "brought us to life" by modeling Jesus or introducing us to Jesus. Then we were challenged to think of whose mat are we currently carrying. Who has God placed in our lives, that like the 4 friends, we had to do whatever it took to bring into the presence of Jesus? We each got a small length of rope to remind us to pray for this person and be with this person. I had mine on my dashboard for over a year.

So, thanks, Eileen! We're glad CentrePointe can live on through your magazine. It was cathartic for me to see something we did 5 years ago live on in this small way.

Environment and Hypocrisy

Last week I presented on sustainability and church buildings at the Worship Facilities Conference and Expo in Atlanta, GA. It was a lot of fun; our talk got applause, and we were congratulated by the US EPA's director of EnergyStar for Small Businesses and Congregations. I'm glad it has become part of the dialogue regarding church buildings, excess, and utilization. There are over 10,000 buildings currently certified or registered with the US Green Building Council as LEED certified, and only 13 are church buildings.

Even so, as I learn more and more about sustainability, I recognize that there are an infinite number of ways to be more environmental at home, personally, and holistically.

I've been teased for being an "extremist" for tearing the plastic windows out of my junk mail so I can recycle the paper envelopes. And yes I've tried to get off every junk mail list I can.

We built a home in 2002 with as many environmental features as we could afford, and it does work almost as well as we had hoped - so there's an element of putting our money where our mouth is.

But then I meet someone who hasn't owned a car for five years, or who only uses a push-mower, or who commutes to work on a bicycle daily (rain or shine), or who doesn't own a clothes dryer. There's a guy in New York City who is doing a year-long experiment on whether or not he can be completely carbon-neutral for a year. And he lives on the 11th floor. And he and his wife have a pre-school child. Another great example is Matthew Sleeth who writes brilliantly on Christian spirituality and the environment in "Serve God, Save the Planet" which is in my favorite links on the right. But he doesn't just talk about it, he lives it.

There's always more that can be done to leave a smaller footprint on the earth. And as you learn more about the possibilities, you realize how far there is to go. It's funny how much trying to be more environmental is like trying to hate sin and honor God. (Maybe because that's precisely what it is? Whoa. Think about that.)

People treat me like some sort of "expert" in the area of sustainability and, folks, I have a long, long way to go. If you think there's hypocrisy in the church, try an environmental group meeting. What strikes me the most is that we're all at different places in living our lives in a way that is kinder to Creation - and that we have to have grace in teaching eachother and humility in learning from one another. Again - this sounds like a faith journey - and just maybe that's because it is.

I recently heard a statistic from the book "Unchristian" by Davin Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons that surveyed the attitudes of unchurched youth ages 16-29 and 87% believe the church of Jesus is hypocritical. I think that is low. I know, because I've been a church insider all of my life, and we are 100% hypocritical. I am a hypocrite. In fact, I've never met anyone who is not in some way a hypocrite, churched or unchurched. If we could live, work, and communicate with grace and love, and not judgement, there would be far fewer claims of hypocrisy because we would not be setting ourselves up to fall down. We're all "in process".

Cool how all of this dawned on me in a new way because of recently re-examining my life and how to live it - from an environmental perspective.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Information R/evolution

Check this out: not only is it entirely true, in my opinion, it's also great film.

If there was every any doubt as to the internet's effect on how we are wired, think, and process and store information. What an exciting time to be alive! I've subscribed to professor Matt Wesch's YouTube feed.

Blogging - And so it begins

It's about time I've done this - with so many thoughts about culture, technology, the church, design, environmentalism, and change.

Here's a start: an apparent paradox.

In discussions or presentations about the emerging church, I've experienced some leaders speak of buildings as though they are a dirty word. And many should be. There are some monstrosities out there that get used for 90 minutes a week, tops. During the latter part of the 20th Century, the mainstream church seemed to have a scorecard of "Butts", "Buildings", and "Budgets". Bigger in each category must equate to success. Very little mention was made of transformation, of servanthood, of environmental record, of influence, of social programs, or of even area crime rates or truancy stats. (Interesting metrics to track for a church!) Does God only bless through numerical growth? So it is no wonder that the building got thrown out with the bathwater when discussing the excesses that some claim the North American mega-church was and is capable of. And it is easy to accept: Yes, the church is not a building, the church is people! I buy that 100%.

Contrast this with the mass customization and designer-awareness of the experience economy we live in. Go to Target - you can buy dozens of types of toilet brushes. (Does there need to be more than 3 types of toilet brushes?) In this design-aware culture, clearly design matters, and environment matters. Sustainability matters. Sustainable environments matter. For churches, environments that foster communication and relationships matter. Worship spaces that aid the spoken word, for music, places that allow people to concentrate, learn, pray, and in the words of Fay Jones, "think their highest thoughts" matter. People can want to build relationships in one, and want to be left alone in another. People can want to linger in one, and want to leave another.

So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, which is more on target:

More than ever, the missional church must view itself as a force, not a fortress, and the building they are in is somewhat incidental to their mission, if they have a building at all.

With today's design-savvy culture and knowledge of what makes for a good environment, worship and gathering space matters more than ever; it cannot be neutral.

... probably one of those both/and postmodern things...