Excerpted from No Place For Me: Letters to the Church in America
By John W. Fountain
If I were a pastor, I would tear down these walls. Move beyond the warm sanctuary of brick, glass and mortar.
Into the cold streets and dark subterranean spaces where humans dwell on life’s fringes, more in despair than in hope. I would discard the high and mighty pulpit — if we must gather in so-called houses of worship at all — so that none are lifted up. Every believer on the same plane. No pomp and circumstance, if I were a pastor.
I would seek to make the church touchable again. Willing to touch again. Offended less by the foulest smell of homelessness and most wretched of nursing homes than by the stench of Christian elitism and human coldness. Humble. Hungry for souls. Hope-rich. Healing. Wholly seeking to be that light shining on a hill.
I would teach that pastors aren’t supposed to fleece, rape or abuse the sheep. That no one “man of God” holds “the secrets” to prosperity. And that no soul-stirring words spoken by any preacher are greater than the Word of God hidden in a believer’s heart.
If I were a pastor, I would disband the choir and dispatch them to mix in with congregants. I would eliminate theater seating. Rearrange chairs so we could look into each other’s faces, eyes — and minister to each other’s souls. So that our collective song might rise as one. Less entertainment. More engagement — in the beauty of worship and fellowship.
I would stop the music — until we had once again found clarity. Until then, let it be the simple instruments of hands and feet, our voices. Our prayers and our praise. A renaissance of old spirituals and hymns.
For the sound of music today floods too many services to ear-piercing decibels. Drowns out the cries of those who mourn. Suffocates the plea of the needy and the suffering. Muddies the truth of the Gospel. Reduces its power to a feel-good sermon with a musical score.
I would preach that the time has now come, not to dance, but to mourn. For men’s souls. For the drifting off course of far too many churches from the 2,000-year-old Gospel message in exchange for a watered-down substitute — for a humanistic, materialistic blend of religious Kool-Aid.
I would preach Jesus Christ, crucified, buried and resurrected — Lord and Savior. I would not stray from that message — no matter how many it drove away, no matter how many withheld their finances in protest.
Like Apostle Paul, I would be a “tent maker,” — earning my own keep, outside the church, so that the ministry’s monies might be used more exclusively for caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan — our chief mission. I would build houses rather than churches.
Transitional homes for families over cathedrals. Family and community centers instead of church complexes. Senior centers and assisted living facilities — places designed to help people live, thrive, survive. I would seek partners to bring wholesome businesses to poor communities: supermarkets that yield jobs and fresh produce; banks; and small businesses. I would plant vegetable gardens where blighted lots now stand. I would seek to build community rather than to bleed community.
And I would teach the people about sufficiency. That godliness with contentment is great gain. That prosperity isn’t about money but about flourishing in life and spirit. That money doesn’t make one rich. And that the lack of it doesn’t make one poor.
I would seek to take the church to the people rather than to bring people to church. I would teach that “the church” is living, breathing, fluid, invincible. That it is alive. Not inanimate. Not an institution. Not a place — a people.
Above all, I would endeavor always to remember that my role as pastor doesn’t make me a celebrity, or special, lord or king — only chief servant. That I am called — as are all believers — to move outside the gates, beyond the church’s institutional walls that today seem to serve to keep “them” out and to keep “us” in.