Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


The Church as a Thin Place: Some Implications

posted by Mark D. Roberts

In my last post in this series, I suggested that, from the point of view of the New Testament, the church is to be the world’s most significant thin place. To put it more differently, in the time after the ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit, God has chosen to make himself known most of all through the church. Of course God is not limited in this way, and can reveal himself in a plethora of ways and places. But, in a very real sense, the church is to be the world’s thin place.
Of course the “thin place” metaphor fits awkwardly here because the church isn’t really a place. It’s not even a vast collection of places so much as a vast community of people. When I speak of the church as a thin place, I meant that God makes himself known through his people, both as they are gathered and as they are scattered into the world. Thus when my church in Boerne, Texas gathers for worship on Sunday, we are (our should be, at any rate) a thin place. When we go out into the world, we become several hundred thin places, at least in potential. We, and the other Christians in our town, are portable thin places.
I wonder what would happen if we began to think of ourselves in this way. What do you think would happen if I thought of myself as a thin place in the following circumstances?

• Interacting with my colleagues at work;
• Doing chores with my children;
• Having a leisurely dinner with my wife;
• Talking with the clerk in the local convenience store;|
• etc. etc. etc.

And what difference might it make if churches thought of their corporate life as a thin place, a place where people might interact in a profound way with the living God?
Let me answer this question with one quick thought. First, if churches saw their corporate life as a thin place, perhaps they’d have more times of quiet and even silence. When I was the Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, our worship services almost always included times of silence. Some were complete quiet; others were “covered” by instrumental music. I appreciated these quiet times and used them to commune with the Lord. There were “thin times” for me, if you will.
Then, in 2000, I took a three-month sabbatical. During that time I visited many churches in the Orange County area. These were all impressive. Most were larger than Irvine Presbyterian. A few were megachurches. All included top-notch music and excellent preaching. But none of these churches left time for quiet in their worship gatherings. They were joyous, exuberant, God-honoring, and consistently loud. (Photo: The “thin” sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church)
Now I am not suggesting that thin places have to be quiet. God can surely make himself known in the midst of and even through noise. (Remember the epiphany on Mt. Sinai, for example: thunder, lightening, trumpet blasts, etc.) But, surely, there is a time for God’s people to be quiet together so that they might hear the “still, small voice” of the Lord both individually and corporately.
A church that thought of itself as a thin place would, I believe, become more intentional about creating times of quiet for people. It might include such times in corporate worship on a regular basis. Or it might host an evening prayer service with lots of quiet. Or it might sponsor a silent retreat. Or it might construct a prayer garden where people could wait on the Lord. Or . . . . You name it (literally, if you wish, by leaving a comment).
Tomorrow I’ll have more to say about some practical implications of a church as a thin place.



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