In my hometown there is a church. This church has a sanctuary. A steeple. A large staff of religious professionals. A jet. A hashtag campaign for each sermon series. A fleet of boats. A “membership” of over 8,000. And at least one contemporary worship service.
In my hometown there is also a nonprofit attempting to partner with impoverished children and young adults living in the historic urban core. Last year, they completed a longitudinal study on the resources available to this population. This study found 12,000 children and young adults (up to age 25) living in generational poverty in a 16-mile radius around downtown Knoxville.
Of these 12,000:
• 87 percent have no access to faith development programs.
• 35 percent have no access to ongoing education, vocational or leadership skill development outside of public school.
• 27 percent of ninth graders in this study graduated high school in four years.
• 43 percent come from single parent households.
• 39 percent of elementary aged children in this study are overweight.
• 42 percent of high school students in this study are overweight.
So, for the mathematically inclined:
• 8,000 church members.
• 12,000 impoverished children and young adults.
• 1 private jet.
• “Several” boats.
And to think, people with Ph.D.s in statistical analysis are baffled by the sharp increase of Millennials in America abandoning the Christian faith altogether.
Now, before accusing me of jealousy because I’m not currently 30,000 feet overhead in a gold-trimmed Airstream purchased tax-free in the name of a homeless, crucified, first-century rabbi, I’d like to point you to a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright:
“Form follows function — that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”
In Frank’s day, a movement of designers, builders, philosophers and architects were all attempting (with varying degrees of success) to dismantle a system of seemingly superfluous indulgence, ornamentation, and gross frivolity in our art, our architecture, and our academies.
However, the modernist movement of the early- to mid-20th century wasn’t just about our aesthetics as much as it was about the core of what it means to be a person. According to the pillars of this movement — folks like Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames, and Mies Van Der Rohe — what things do (their functionality, if you will) should serve as the bedrock (rather than the afterthought) of their design. Instead of appealing to history or sacred tradition or habit, structures and sofas and soda machines should, with as little obfuscation as possible, depict the very essence of what it is they exist to do, regardless of popular opinion on the subject.
Taste aside, there is a counterintuitive truth to the modernist emphasis on functionality, in that while it may seem stark, bleak, minimal, or cold, when we strip life and budgets down to their most basic elements we soon discover peaceful order to things — an order that has quite often been lost under the weight of baroque window dressings, colonial crown moldings, or bourgeois ecclesial jet budgets. (Note: “ecclesial jet budgets” is an amazing name for a cover band. Please cite your source.)
I would argue, what we’re currently experiencing at the hands of exhaustingly narcissistic conversations about the life and faith of people in their early- to mid-20s (seriously sometimes it’s like talking to a pair of TOMS) is a rather painful burning away of pretense, posturing, and unhelpful ornamentation that has, for years now, hidden the efficacy and functionality of our faith and its institutions.
Put baldly, if it takes everyone quitting for churches to stop buying airplanes, boats, sanctuaries, elections, and huge tracts of expensive land on the outskirts of town, then I hope we all start sleeping in. And you can quote me on that one (mainly because my name’s at the bottom and now the effect is ruined).
But, in the meantime, if your “heart is breaking” for a city, or you feel a “call” to a group of people in another part of the country, or even if you notice a pull to take “the gospel” to all the nooks and crannies of our globe, I got a few thousand people who would love to get to know you, your God, and your auditorium-website-lapel-mic-airplane-worship-cover-band-T-shirt-budget.
When we live simply as individuals and massive institutions (which I’m hearing are now the same thing?) we might discover a rather surprising simplicity to our number crunching. Because, if 8,000 of you were able to save up enough money for a plane, I wonder what you might pull off for the 12,000 kids barely scraping out a life in the flyover zone?