As a potter I hope that my pieces communicate something. The preference is that they communicate function over form, but I do like to dabble in creative risk-taking shapes sometimes. Form should follow function whether in pottery or the church. First you figure out what you think God wants you do, and then you figure out the means, structure, or whatever you need to accomplish it. If we can figure out our function first then our forms and the shape of our vessels should surely follow!
I prefer 19th century pottery forms because they got this point exactly right. The potters or “turners,” as they were called back then, didn’t go for the fancy stuff that’s more artsy than utilitarian. They made crocks, jugs, and storage jars, things you were going to use. Sure, they decorated the ware every now and then, but, for the most part, it was all about function first. I wonder sometimes if churches are first geared to perform our function, or do we prioritize our outdated and poorly purposed forms, means of worship and facilities. Do our forms follow our function to make disciples of Jesus Christ? What do we communicate?
St. John’s Apple Fest is this coming Saturday and I will be donating quite a few pieces of pottery since the proceeds support missions. I’ll be using a South Carolina theme where I use a sgraffito method and free-hand draw the palmetto and crescent symbols of our state on the wet clay. South Carolina has been through a lot this year, from massacre to mud, Charleston Nine to the Flood. Thus I want my work to communicate a love of our state and support ways that we can help alleviate some of the suffering that people have endured.
Forms communicate function and what we value. Fred Craddock, best preacher ever in my mind, has a great story, one of many, that speaks about the communication of values. He tells about when he was a youngster going to church with his mother. The story goes like this: “The minister would speak to my mother, ‘How’re you, Miz Craddock?’ and the five of us kids would go along like little ducks waddling after our mother. ‘How’re you, sonny? How’re you, honey? How’re you, sonny? How’re you, honey?’”
He goes on to say, “But I remember when another minister came to our church, and about his fifth or sixth Sunday when I went along there, he said, ‘Fred, how’re you doing?’ He was the best minister that ever was at that church, because there’s a big difference between ‘sonny’ and ‘Fred.’” Amen. The personal touch, with pottery and people, communicates something, doesn’t it? It makes all the difference, in my opinion. A church that communicates personal care and nurture is a boon to society as a whole, and to individual lives as well. What do people hear from us? Do they hear a well-intentioned, but impersonal, “sonny,” or “honey,” or do they hear the specific love of God that is tailor-made for them, as if it were only theirs to hear?
Another Craddock story expresses a need for better communication of our values: “I was in a church gathering in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and somebody asked me during the question-and-answer period what I thought about somebody’s view of the Bible that had just been published and they had all read about. I discussed it, and I said, “There’s a lot of thought there, and I’m sure this is a very sincere person, but his view of the Bible is not adequate for me. I think he puts too much water in the wine.”
Then he continued, “Afterward a woman came up to me and gave me two tickets to the state Women’s Christian Temperance Union banquet, a fine organization opposed to the use of spirituous liquors. She wanted my wife and me to go, and I said, ‘But why this?’ And she said, ‘We just don’t have enough ministers speaking out against drink, and I appreciated what you said.’ Now, what did I say, and what did she hear?”
These are the two questions that we must absolutely answer with every verbal interaction, sermon, and church service or program: “What did I/we say?” and “What did she/he hear?” If we ask those two questions and understand the answers we will have come a long way in adequately offering Jesus to a needy world. Our function is to offer Christ and our words and actions are the form, the vessel for the content of the Gospel. Answering “What did I say?” and “What was heard?” creates better communication, and proves that our forms FOLLOW our function!