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The Rev. Orrell Battersby with BFF Christine

Has Church Become More Ceremonial Than Functional?

By Rev. Orrell Battersby, Gympie Regional Uniting Church. 

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living.

They are foundational words, words to build a life on.

If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock.

Rain poured down, the river flooded, and a tornado hit — but nothing moved that house.

It was fixed to the rock.”   (Matthew 7.24-25. MSG)

Has Church Become More Ceremonial Than Functional?

A vivid illustration of the ‘ceremony out-doing function’ occurred during an event that called for Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth to slice a relatively small cake with a rather large ceremonial sword.

As she was handed the sword, typically wielded to award knighthood, it became clear that manoeuvring the enormous blade would be far from a piece of cake’ (sorry).

This was the Queen, after all. Thus she was unperturbed by the challenge and, when told there was a cake knife available, responded, “I know there is. This is more unusual.”

It is no surprise that a growing number of people view Church as more ceremonial than functional. What is surprising is when congregations seem utterly unperturbed by the decline of the church and, in particular, the gaping hole, the absence of millennials.

Today, laying the cornerstone as part of a foundation of a building is purely a symbolic act. 

As such, this cornerstone plays only a small ceremonial role in the overall structure – I wonder if the same could be said of Jesus?

Is the church in decline because we have reduced His role in the overall structure to purely symbolic?

Historically the cornerstone was always the first stone laid during construction, and every other stone in the building was measured by the standard of the cornerstone to ensuring a proper fit. 

The cornerstone was considered the most important stone in the building, as all other stones are laid around this first cornerstone.  

  • The cornerstone had been tested. 
  • It had been verified to be the most robust stone. 
  • It was the most valuable and most important. 
  • It provides the firmest foundation. 

Jesus is the true Cornerstone. The chief Cornerstone. The tested. The solid foundation:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2.19-20).

Jesus must be the cornerstone if the Church is ever functional.

In his book ‘Anatomy of a Revived Church’ author, Thom Rainer reminds us that there is hope. Churches can and do turn around. They revitalise and do so in the face of facts and nay-sayers who tell them it can’t be done. Today, three out of four churches are declining, and many are close to death.

Here’s the thing, Gympie Regional Uniting Church (which includes Imbil) is in decline; it has been so for a long time. The good news is that it has not yet reached the point of irreversible decline.

We have adopted Project Plenty’s ‘Shared Life, Flourishing Communities’ mission priorities and direction as our missional framework. We call it our playbook. The four missional priorities of Project Plenty represent a paradigm shift; they hold the promise of revitalising the church for our region.            

We have also developed functional guidelines and improved church structures, governance, and compliance to ensure we enhance rather than inhibit mission – in line with Project Plenty. We are committed to a flourishing future for our church and community through our shared life.

Our primary purpose is to fulfil our calling –exhibiting the character of Jesus, a spirit of humility, love, and unity, coupled with resurrection power, proving that the church is truly ‘The Body of Christ’ inhabited by God Himself.

Isaiah 28.16

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
   a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
The one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.”


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