Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Future of the Church? or St. Curvy

This is a photo from a famous set --all of which is worth viewing. It is the former home of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church of Detroit, affectionately dubbed "St. Curvy's" What you cannot see is more impressive than what you can. Above the large plexi-glass skylight (inevitably put in place by some well-meaning but misguided diaconate) is an elaborate dome, with massive stained glass windows. That all this is still intact, though abandoned, is amazing.

Since I grew up going to Detroit for baseball games, I have always had a peculiar interest in it.

This picture tells a story. Of a city that had the most industry wealth in America and then fell into the dilapidation of crime, poverty, and gross corruption. This picture is just one of many churches and other grand structures from the sad implosion of the Motor City.

The decaying architecture of Detroit is the gilded age: gaudy, ornate, over-the-top, massive and opulent. Theatres , train stations, amusement parks, all abandoned and going to rot. An area area the size of San Francisco within the city limits of Detroit is vacant. Picture after picture of massive church edifices, Protestant and Catholic, now vacant and left to decay.

But, it also tells a story about the church. Obviously, this church had incredible wealth --a massive structure, all that curvature in the architecture and pews, the ornate woodwork and stained glass. It was a cathedral built for the ages, but the congregation didn't even last one hundred years. I wonder how long our expensive cathedrals of today will remain the home to vital congregations?

But, that is not my reason for writing. The church qua institution is in sad shape. But, Christ promises, the church as living organism will prevail. Why, then, does the institution of the church receive the majority of our time, efforts, and treasure? We need buildings, a modicum of organization, clear leadership, all of these things to be sure. But, our weakness is to make these things our top priorities, when mission ought to be our top priority. We spend most of our time oiling the machine, and fixing it when it breaks down. We, particularly those of us in ministry, ought to spend most of our time on three things: word, prayer, and people. We might add that those of us who are the regenerated ought not to expect the most time spent on us --but we, rather, ought to be spending most of our time on word, prayer and lost and broken people --helping them find their way home.

I am not doing this. I am praying to God that I shall, and that those I pastor shall, become like this, and not meet the same sad fate of St. Curvy's.


  1. Loved this. The architecture is beautiful. Your commentary is relevant. Thank you for making me think.

  2. Your comments on the association of the church's vitality and its proper mission resembles similar comments by Michael Horton in the recent issue of BY FAITH in which he describes the church's mission as a "narrow mandate".

    You know what they say about great minds ...!

    It is nice to read men whose insight to timely challenges of the church are preaching the same antidotes. Where you end your comments with spending time with "lost and broken people", he ends with "faithful care of the spiritual lives of the members".

  3. I listen to Moody Bible Radio a good bit throughout my days, and over the past several weeks, I have heard others say some things that came back to mind as I read this. One comment (and I cannot remember by whom because somtimes, the radio is in the background) was basically saying that the church is not right because it's having yet another pot-luck supper but the church is right when it is concerned with spreading the gospel. I don't think his intent was to downplay the importance of Christian fellowship, but more to highlight how much we tend to be about ourselves... The other comment was made last night and again, I can't remember who it was but it was a man who basically made the statement that they had found that giving was down in their church because people saw that the church basically spent the money on itself for more activities and things to keep the members entertained and happy. That was a VERY provoking thought to me. The man basically said that they began to change the format of their church and as the people started to see lives being changed and hurting people being helped, they began to want to invest in what they considered a vital ministry...

  4. i am beginning to read larry crabb's new book real church and several of the previous points made have been brought to light to me in this very contemporary book. church attendance is down and so is giving, why? forgive me for saying if i may, if god's spirit is irresistable and is moving as a living organism inserting itself into the hearts of men,then where are they? why are they not coming? i agree our outlook is flawed. we have turned inward as a church, we are so focused on ourselves, our budget,our music, our roof, our fellowships,etc. of course those things must be tended to, but we as a corporate body are not anguished over the burden of lost souls. why is the earth still turning? because god's elect are still being gathered. not a single one will be left behind throughout all history and today. so why are we still here? to assist the holy spirit to gather in god's precious souls. if we truly felt burden for the hurting lost, the inconviences of our church building or budget would seem so much smaller than we make them out to be. i pray for this burden and am prepared for the anguish that is to follow. it is the only reason i am still here and breathing.