Cookie-cutter Church (Kris Beckert)

Monday, 25 March, 2013

Kris Beckert wonders whether we need a wider range of cookie cutters.

Most of my family and close friends know I am one of those people who will not be found baking tasty treats in the kitchen for hours on end. 

When I was a kid, the compulsion to bake only arose once a year around Christmas time. We kept our set of metal cookie cutters, maybe 20 of them in all different shapes and sizes, in a plastic bag. But year after year, as the dough was chilling, I would reach into the bag and select the same five shapes to use over and over again. The reasoning was simple: they fitted the season, I knew the dough wouldn't get stuck in them and their shapes baked well in the oven. I could expect my cookies to be ready to eat.

Duh. Why would you even risk trying anything else?

Years later and I've begun to wrestle with that same question as it applies to ministry. Apart from beginning my ministry with the launch of a church plant, much of my experience as a pastor has been in the shape of what most people would draw if they selected 'Church' in a game of Pictionary: a building with or without steeple; preacher/pastor; pulpit; choir or worship group; Christians studying the Bible; money given to the poor; a busy car park. If we took a drive around your town, most likely we could pick out at least a dozen churches with similar shapes, actions, ministries, and advertisement campaigns telling people their church is the best thing since the invention of the chocolate chip.

Kind of like a Cookie-cutter Church.

And the fact is, many of us really have wondered what Church could be like beyond those same four or five shapes we've been using year after year in stone buildings, brick sanctuaries, church plants, and historic communities. Many of us have experienced some kind of call from God tugging at our heart, calling us to reach into the bag and pull out a new shape of ministry to try—one that fits better around the countless people in our community who have no desire to enter the form of Cookie-cutter Church, yet who still need the Gospel. We find ourselves sitting in our offices, a sermon draft and the minutes of some meeting or other on the desk in front of us, a calendar dotted with parish socials, weddings and funerals; our most recent salary slip in our bag - and we feel that call.

But when you risk picking up a new cookie-cutter, you have to put an old one down and that's what scares us so much. We don't know HOW it's going to work or IF it's going to work. There's something comforting about having that sermon and minutes on your desk, those events and expectations on your calendar, that pay in your bank account. It's how your predecessor, your mentor, and your clergy friends from college have shaped their ministry all along. It's the expected job description of the pastorate that predicts how their cookie is going to rise and bake and what kind of story they will tell.

Then you realise that God doesn't want to write their story with you.

It's not that the traditional cookie-cutters of what we are used to as Church aren't mission-shaped; it's just that the Holy Spirit does not restrict us to using only them. Just as the early Church took on various forms in various places, led by disciples who understood the boundaries as well as the flexibility of the Spirit, God has gifted and called some of us to do the same. It's interesting how the attractiveness of following that call often varies with our present circumstance. Obedience to his call may mean you have no 'pastor's office', no building campaign, no pulpit or secretary or holiday bible school. Instead, you may be holding a support group for abused women, discussing theodicy in a pub, or praying with a running team before their first marathon - all exciting, scary, and not quite the prestige of the pastorate celebrated by many of your clergy colleagues and peers.  

As a relatively 'green' pastor, I can't help but wonder what it would be like if I didn't have to choose between mission and maintenance but instead be mission empowered and endowed by maintenance – as well as being given a share of the same materials and resources to get the new cookie-cutter started. I can't help but wonder what would happen if I followed the call to fresh expressions of church, regardless of what success or failure I may find myself in. I can't help but wonder if God might be waiting for us to use some of the other cookie-cutters he's given, those that arise in the dreams of you and me.

But first, we've got to step into the kitchen.

About the author: 

Kris Beckert is a licensed minister in the Nazarene Church, a 3rd-year M.Div. student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. and a current member of the Fresh Expressions US Northern Virginia mission shaped ministry Learning Community. She serves as discipleship minister to the Herndon United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia.


Kris, Thanks for this post. Often, we refer to the work of Fresh Expressions as a sort of 'test kitchen'. The main ingredients for church are the same from generation to generation, but there are more ways to cut the dough. What do others think?

Thanks for the encouragement of this post. We work in Carlisle with a chain of charity shops called OpShops on estates in the city using the shops as a vehicle for ministry, meeting people very much where they are at, sometimes in circumstances very different from our own. The privilege in building relationships and walking with people on their journey with God is incredible and very humbling. We would appreciate your prayers for this work and for more Christians to join us. It is not as ordered, pretty or prolific as some churches but it is real, with people in need, not only of the saving grace of our Lord Jesus but for a Christian to share the love of God for his people in a practical way. Comments, enquiries or visits would be most welcome.


people are tribal and we need so many more fresh expressions of his love. I am not talking about churches with paid staff but communities of people in love with Jesus and create space in their life for pursuing people who are not in Christ and enfolding them in a community of love, most churches don't like or feel comfortable with "messy" people. Listen to this poem and see if this isn't true:

Therapy': by Steve Malakowsky

can i take my addictions into your church
can i sit on your padded pews
can i bleed on your carpet or do you want
me when i'm clean and not now
can i take my addictions into your theology
is it big enough to face my pain
or will i stain your glass with street smells
and sweat
where can i go
where can i go when i'm addicted...

When life sucks most people need love and people around them who speak the love and identity of the Love of The Father into them and allow people to sit among us and feel safe till they join us.


Tim Wright

What a beautifully written piece, engaging and so very relevant. Thanks

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