God’s Dwelling Place
Buildings don’t define the Church. Jesus does. But buildings are tools that God can use, and historically, we see that He does so.
Look at the story of Nehemiah: Nehemiah was charged with rebuilding Jerusalem in order to restore and protect the nation of Israel. This narrative points to Christ as the perfect Redeemer who restores and protects His people. But even so, God shows us His nature through Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a plan. He knew the importance of restoring the walls of Jerusalem to greatness. He didn't stand by when his people and his God were ridiculed on account of their ruined temple. In accordance with the old covenant, Nehemiah knew that God dwelt in a physical temple by His Spirit, so the importance of rebuilding that temple was paramount.
Likewise, God has a plan. God promises that He will dwell by His Spirit in the midst of His people, the Church. That’s why He is restoring, rebuilding, and sanctifying us.
Using Building for Mission
Today we know that God dwells in us by His spirit, not in our buildings. But that doesn’t mean buildings have lost all significance. Bruce Wesley, a pastor at Clear Creek Community Church, puts it this way:
"…the early church did not have a building, and the viral movement of Jesus spread from house to house. But we have cars. We live in a culture wherein people gather in third places outside their homes for coffee and meals. People gather in crowds for concerts and sporting events. We live in a time when people still consider the church to be a gathering community that meets on Sundays in clean, if not beautiful, sacred spaces. It’s just a building, but it’s sacred because we set it aside for the purposes of God."
This is why we call our gathering space a “sanctuary," not an auditorium or worship center. A sanctuary is set apart for rest, worship, and the power of God. Psalm 65:38 reads, "You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!” Our buildings are sacred insofar as they are set apart for the purpose and work of God.
Even as American Christianity is losing cultural influence, non-Christians are still apt to encounter the fellowship of the Church in buildings. And really, these buildings belong to the whole neighborhood, whether people believe what we do or not. This is why we have buildings in the Heights and in Montrose. This is why we encourage covenant members to move into the neighborhood. This is why we want to see our neighborhoods saturated with gospel presence. This is why we host art shows, barbecues, parties, and weddings. And this is why we host weekly Sunday Gatherings. We want as many people as possible to taste and see the perfection of Jesus through the communion of saints, gathered worship, and the sacraments.
God uses our time, talents, energy, and resources for His mission. And while we refuse to waste Kingdom resources on luxuries, we will utilize these resources to offer our neighbors safe, comfortable and welcoming spaces. We don’t need air conditioning to be missional in Houston, but it matters to our neighbors, which means it matters for our hospitality. As we acquire and redeem the use of buildings, especially those buildings in our neighborhoods that have lost—or never had—significance for the church, we take part in reflecting God’s coming redemption of all things.
The Neighborhood of Montrose
The closest historic church building to Sojourn Montrose’s loft is Mark’s, a former Lutheran building now converted into a restaurant. The pulpit has literally been converted into a bar. And while we’re not in competition with our neighborhood for property, we do want to have a lasting, unavoidable presence in this neighborhood. We want our neighbors to encounter Jesus. This is why Sojourn Montrose is taking a big step in that direction. We’re leaving the loft we’ve called home for the past 2 years and moving into a prominent new space in our neighborhood. It’s a risk we believe God has ordained for His purpose. We get to join in the mission of God through this endeavor, and we’re so deeply grateful for the opportunity!