• Dan Carlton

Sacred Space

As we seek ways to deal with the decline of the church in America, there is a call for churches to move from an “attractional” model to a “missional” model. For those of us who grew up in the “come to church” attractional world, this conversation creates anxiety and fear for the future. What do you do when people don’t come to church anymore?

In business acceleration, we see a great need for community and space. People want to gather with other creators/founders to dream, encourage, support, challenge—to know that someone is rooting for them. That sounds a lot like what churches have been doing throughout our history—being a place where we gather people in community to dream, encourage, support, challenge and to know someone is rooting for you.

So how do we bridge the gap between “sacred space” and “business space?”

The focus of Jesus’ ministry was bridging the gap between the sacred space of his day (the Temple) and the culture that had grown tired and weary of the religious institution. Jesus showed that the life of faith could be experienced on hillsides, at the shore, beside wells, and with sinners, just as well as it could in the magnificent Temple with Temple goers. That created a tension leading to the cross.

When Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). Do you find it a little odd that out of all the things that are happening at the moment of the death of the sinless Son of God—the sky blackens, the earth shakes, the centurion professes Christ, the women weep at the cross (because the men had long since gone)—while all this drama was unfolding … a curtain is torn. What does it mean? Maybe Mark understood that God was now available to everyone. That curtain was the dividing line between sacred space and humanity. Through the tearing of the curtain, God was proclaiming—you will not keep me behind a religious framework any more.

Paul, and many like him, believed that after the Resurrection the Temple—the Holy of Holies— was in them through the Holy Spirit. And they took that message into all the world planting churches as they went. But they didn’t build structures. Sometimes they started churches right next door the synagogues—which is a scary thought. Those synagogues could have joined in the new work of God—but instead they closed their doors.

Too many churches today have closed their doors to the creative work of God. In effect, we have been sewing the torn curtain back up. We have tried to restore the gap! One way we have done this is through a misreading of an important story in the New Testament. The story of Jesus cleaning out the Temple is not about the misuse of the Temple grounds, it is about bad religion—exploiting the poor and vulnerable. Jesus had a problem with a lifeless religion that exploited the poor by not giving them a fair deal in the Temple market.

The Temple in Jesus’ day was the center of community life. It was the hub of commerce—trading, money exchange, making deals, buying and selling. The Temple was a place of education, healing and health care, socialization—story telling, and the religious life of the community. Every person’s life intersected the Temple. But we have taken a story about bad religion exploiting the poor to proclaim that the church is only for “sacred purposes.” We have sown the curtain back up and made sure everyone understands that church facilities are only for sacred purposes.

So can a “sacred space” and a “business space” exists in the same space? We believe it can. We believe those two spaces are complimentary not contradictory. Jesus critique of the “sacred space” of His day was that the poor were not experiencing the good news, the prisoners were not being set free, the blind were not healed, the oppressed were not set free. There are a lot of businesses being created that are doing the work Jesus said he was about. There are some churches trying to do the work Jesus said He was about. All of those things could happen in church buildings if we understood the sacred was more than just guarding religious traditions and customs. Let’s invite the community in again – but not for something as trivial as “come to church.” Let’s invite them to help bring about the fullness of life Jesus invites all of us to. When we do that a bunch of sacred moments will create a sacred space.

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