Brian Zahnd, author of Beauty Will Save the World, has inspired me to question how most Western churches operate. Trust me, this is a good thing. I’ve been taught to always know “the why behind the what” in church ministry. Meaning, if we (the church) are doing something (pick anything – how we collect offering, the creative elements in a service, how we coordinate our outreach, the messages we preach, and even the core values we hold) we better know why we are doing what we’re doing.
Sometimes the why is extremely practical, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with practicality in church. I believe practicality is necessary for churches to function well. However, I believe there is a point where we can make church over-practical and stale. Some churches have become so “practical” that it could be likened to a McDonald’s Happy Meal – in and out quickly with a cute toy to make ya feel good about your purchase. I have the same fear as Zahnd, ““What I fear is that we are in danger of losing our perspective of what is most beautiful about Christianity and accidentally vandalizing our faith with the best of intentions” (150). The church must remain authentic, true to the beauty of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Yet, the church must also attain a level of practicality that mobilizes its evangelistic efforts in the current culture. Here are, in my opinion, 3 ways Church leadership can balance authentic beauty and practicality and point multitudes to Jesus while leading healthy churches.
- Teach the Beatitudes Often
As I discovered while reading this book, the Beatitudes are much more than moral guidelines for people who want to be good. They are Jesus’ instruction for transformative power. This is the beauty that will save the world – when people grasp these eight truths and prioritize them daily. So teach these often, and be creative! “The cruciform is the beauty of the Beatitudes in full flower. The Beatitudes and the cruciform are ultimately the same thing – one existing in proclamation, the other existing in demonstration” (3038). There’s a beautiful parallel between the actions of the crucifixion of Christ and the message Jesus gave in The Sermon on the Mount. To make beauty practical we must: welcome the poor in spirit, comfort those who mourn, esteem the meek, hunger for justice, extend mercy, have a pure heart, be peacemakers, and endure persecution.
- Budgets Should Be Reflective of Priority: Relationships First
No matter what, churches rise and fall on the quality of relationships. According to a recent study evaluating why people are leaving the church and not coming back, nearly every respondent commented that the reason why they left was because they no longer had a strong feeling of healthy community (Church Refugees). If a budgetary decision’s “why behind the what” is not focused on building healthy community and taking care of people, it’s not worth it. I’m not saying investing into the quality of your church building or spending money on top quality sound equipment is a bad decision. Budgets should be evaluated by practicality but should yield results of authentic beauty.
- Aim For Excellence, Not Perfection
Perfection will mutate any leader into a tyrant faster than you can imagine. This is because perfection is impossible, yet for some reason we think if we plan, practice, and control our environment well enough we can grasp it. The church has good intentions for practicality and perfection, but it leaves us with impressive yet stale churches. Plan your church events to be excellent. Train your staff and volunteers to be incredible speakers, artists, and servants. Hold rehearsals and make sure things are done right. Invest into quality equipment that will set your team up for a win and leave distraction at the door. Change things up often and don’t get too stuck on a routine. Always, always push your staff and volunteers to a place where they rely on God’s grace more than the comfort of the routine. Authentic Beauty cannot be found in perfection. Perfection is puffed up, controlling, and will ultimately fail. Authentic Beauty (humility, God-reliance, servant hood) balanced with practicality (discipline, strategy, goals) is excellence.
Basically, every part of our churches should be authentic. We always need to ask ourselves why we do what we do. Overall, Beauty Will Save the World dives so much deeper than western church leadership, but it is a message that everyone in church leadership should pay attention to. “In order to recover the true form and beauty that is integral to Christianity, we need an ideal form, a true standard, an accurate template, a faithful model to which we must conform. For historic Christianity this has always been Jesus Christ upon the cross” (188). We are modernized, western Christians and we need practicality to make sense of the world in which we live, but we cannot ever forsake the transformative, beautiful, and saving power of Jesus Christ. Jesus on the cross is our method, our plan, our practical model and it is just so, so beautiful.
*Page references correlate with Kindle edition of Beauty Will Save the World.