Open and Closed Doors
Peter BeckPeter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
- 2009 Mar 06
Doors are interesting, at least architecturally. I once did an ad (in a previous lifetime) that required myself and the photographer to locate and photograph two dozen different doors, doors of different styles and materials. We were able to find 24 visually interesting doors within two blocks of my downtown office.
Today, when I go in and out of various churches, I look at their doors. Are they utilitarian? Are the attractive? Are they welcoming? Or, are they forboding? Doors matter. If they didn’t, why would Lowe’s and Home Depot offer some many differing styles?
One thing that I’ve noticed is that many churches just don’t seem to think about their doors. I’m not talking about style, however. I’m talking about function, what it is that they do and communicate. I’m talking about doors in their figurative role.
Here are my thoughts on this oft-overlooked part of our church buildings:
1 - The door must always be open to lost people. Just as many church doors today are of the self-closing variety, many of our churches are of the self-closing variety. They claim that they are seeker friendly, evangelistic, and welcoming. But, in reality, many churches are closed doors. Outsiders are treated like outsiders. We call them visitors, not guests. We invite them to our small groups but we’re slow to make it their small group. Some are welcome. Many are not. “Join our church,” we plead, “but only if you’ll become like us.” I’ve been in a lot churches that I don’t want to be like. Be careful what message you send to the unbeliever who actually shows up at your door. While I don’t believe church is only about the lost, we have to make sure that we don’t make it only about the found.
2 - The door must not always be open to the churched. Too many churches have become social clubs, places to gather. We’ve taken the concept of sanctuary and turned our churches into sanctuaries from the world. We come and we hide. We do all of our ministry within the friendly confines of First Baptist Anywhere. We’ve forgotten that we come to church to worship and we come to be trained up in the way that we should go. Then, we must go. I know that we’ve paid a lot of money for our buildings and our wonderful campuses but it’s time for us to occasionally lock the doors from the outside and send our people out into the streets to do the work of Christ. After all, Jesus did say, “As you are going, make disciples… .”
3 - The back door must be opened occasionally. We often lament the fact that too many of folks we see coming to Christ through the doors of baptism are so quickly lost in the crowd. They slip through the back door. We are right to be so concerned about them. We need to close that back door through effective discipleship that begins at conversion and continues the rest of our Christian lives. I’m talking about the other back door, however.
There are some people in our churches that are not believers, or at least they don’t act that way. There are people who are divisive and mean-spirited. There are folks that never respond to our overtures of love. There are members who act like anything but members of the body of Christ. Our rolls are bloated with members who probably aren’t Christians. Yet, we fight to keep them on the rolls because they make our numbers look better. We fight to keep them on our rolls because, we ask, how else can we minister to them when in reality we aren’t. It’s time to open the back doors of our church and let those people out who don’t really want to be in. It’s time to show some folks to the back door who’ve proven that they’re not interested in Christ or His message of reconciliation. It’s time to open the back doors and find out who really wants to stay.So, next time you go to church pay attention to the doors. What are they saying? Does your church have more emergency exits than front doors? More ways out than in? Do your doors say “come and in and stay awhile?” Or, do they say, “come in and stay forever?” The doors are talking. Are we listening?