Monday, October 23, 2006


At CTK we believe that the 11th Commandment is "Keep it Real." It not only applies to substance, but style. The early church “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Being real often means taking a less formal approach. Church did not take place in a pious, artificial environment called “church.” It took place where they lived, in their homes.

Informality is a leveling force. It provides an excellent context from which to let your talk flow out of the real you, not the manufactured one. It cuts away the stiffness and artificiality that bureaucracy can breed. It allows communication to be freer and less guarded, less “political.”

I have a pastor-friend who offered to give me a tour of his church’s new facility. I was glad to see it. It was very well appointed. Beautiful pastel green drapes went from ceiling to floor. Wall sconces were ubiquitous. The end result was lovely. As we stood in the back of the auditorium, we talked in hushed tones. There was no one else in the room. It just seemed like the thing to do (think funeral home here).

As he described the decorative influences that went into their choice of fabrics and colors, he said, “We wanted to have the auditorium feel like a living room.” As he said the words “living room,” a light-bulb went on in my head. I had never thought of it before then, but I guess I had always wanted the décor at CTK to have the look and feel of the family room, not the living room. You know the difference, don’t you? The living room is the room that you keep clean. The room you use for company (so that they think this is how well you keep the rest of your house). It’s the room where you cannot put your feet up on the furniture, or set down your drink without a coaster. It’s the room where you put your best foot forward. It’s the façade.

The family room, on the other hand, is where you really live. It’s where magazines and newspapers are piled on the floor. It’s where you can eat while you watch television. It’s where dad goes to snore in his recliner. It’s where even the dog can curl up on the coach if he wants to. It is a homier, more relaxed environment. The couch is a little worn. There are “mug rings” on the coffee table. Low on pretense, high on comfort.

Many churches think “living room” instead of “family room” and send out the vibe: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” In a Deliberately Simple church we work hard to maintain a comfortable atmosphere. We encourage people to “make themselves at home.” We think “family room” when it comes to the places we meet, and even the colors and styles we employ.

A Deliberately Simple church takes a very utilitarian view of facilities and their appointments. A building is just a tool. It is not the church. The people are the church. We could meet under a tree, and still be the church. The building is not our focal point. The people are. For this reason we don’t like to call the primary meeting place a “sanctuary.” We say “auditorium” or the “meeting room.” We “deinstitutionalize” the facility. We want our facilities to be neat, clean and functional, and nothing else. What is special is not the place. What is special is what happens in the place. We don’t use a “pulpit.” A metal music stand will do. We don’t need fancy, just functional. We maintain utilitarian facilities. By making it clear that we are not fixated on the surroundings, we help to reinforce that “this is really about people.”

It is the value of reality that leads a Deliberately Simple church to encourage casual, comfortable dress. I always wear blue jeans to church. I do this because the average person in America owns eight pairs of blue jeans, so I consider them to be the “least common denominator” of fashion. The fashion statement (or understatement) that I make communicates something beyond the rivets and five pockets. It says, “We’re not here to impress you, so please don’t waste any effort trying to impress us.”

Casual dress is not superficial; it’s important. We have neither the time nor the inclination for pretense. When clothing is allowed to convey class status within an organization, a hierarchical structure built on rank and position is perpetuated.

In the real estate industry, colored jackets have become a source of distinction among agencies, and amusement among those who don’t have to wear them. At Red Carpet, the jackets are red. At Century 21, they are gold. At ERA, they are blue. RE/MAX, with its “let’s keep it real” culture, ran an ad showing a real estate agent in a sharp tailored suit and a female real estate agent in a luxurious fur coat, with the slogan, “These are our jackets.” In a similar way, we have run an ad at CTK showing three young adults in jeans and t-shirts that says, “Put on your Sunday best. It’s not a fashion show. It’s just church.”

While casual dress is encouraged at CTK, jeans are not a “reverse” dress code. You can wear what you feel comfortable in. Jeans just happen to be my answer to the question “What do I normally wear?” For some people, normal is a dress, or a suit. That’s fine. Wear what works for you. The point is that you don’t have to dress up special for us, and you don’t have to dress up special for God. Come as you are.

I have had literally dozens of conversations with unchurched people in which they bemoaned the fact that they didn’t have anything to wear or quizzed me about what they should wear. They are surprised and relieved when I say, “Wear what you have on. You’ll fit right in.”

I don’t typically listen to rap music. But I am a fan of iTunes (a website which allows you to download music). Every Tuesday iTunes has a free download of the week. The price is right, so I usually participate. One week, I downloaded a free rap song, surprised to find that the second verse was an insightful critique of the church.

Lately I’ve been thinking ‘bout saving my soul
And if prayers may get to heaven from the ghetto
I asked all my friends, but they just say they don’t know,
It’s all bad, y’all
The preacher’s talkin’ bout some stuff he don’t know
When church then became a fashion show
They won’t let me in with these 10 bows
It’s all bad, y’all

Sobering lyrics aren’t they? (By the way, I spared you a couple of curse words that were thrown in for seasoning.) By “10 bows” he means that he has his hair in dreadlocks, tied off at the ends. Here’s an African-American young man who says he’s been thinking about salvation, and contemplating going to church. But he realizes that he doesn’t have the wardrobe or hairstyle to fit in, so he resigns to a hopeless refrain, “It’s all bad, y’all.” Ouch. That hurts.

In a Deliberately Simple church, it’s not a fashion show, it’s a gathering of real people to have a real relationship with God.

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