Church in a Bar: Why Even the Darkest Spaces Can Be Sacred

When I announced that I was going to do a church plant in a blues bar in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, Texas, I obviously received some mixed feedback. My favorite negative one surprisingly came from a heavily tattooed pastor who identifies as an Outlaw Preacher. They asked if this means that I was lowering my standards in order to reach a targeted demographic, or if it meant I had loose morals and condoned sin. I remember laughing and asking them if those were my only two options. They said they couldn't possibly think of another.

At the same time, my family, which is by all means more conservative than I am, didn't even blink an eye at the announcement. They said they were proud of me and that Jesus ate and drank with all kinds of "bad people" in "questionable spaces" in order to be a light to them. I guess they consider church in a bar means that what I am doing is either evangelism or some act of charity.

So now we have more options: I'm lowering standards for numbers. I condone sin. I'm evangelizing these poor souls. Or, finally, that I am gracing these poor lost souls with my presence in some act of compassion. Personally, I don't like any of these.

All of these mentalities derive from some notion that there is such a thing as a sacred space where God is, and a dark space where God is not. All of these mentalities derive from some notion that there is such a thing as a child of Light vs. a child of nothing but dark.

If you were to ask a fish what water was they would probably not even know what you were talking about. Water is simply everywhere; it is that in which they live and move and have their being.

Let's assume that one day the fish does experience "water" somewhere -- in that they become aware of the presence of water somehow. Maybe they found a particularly fresh source, strong current or peaceful place and they decide that this spot is a sacred space: this, they decided, is where water is. And this dualistic thinking automatically creates spaces where water is not.

We may laugh at this, but aren't we guilty of the same thing? We live and breathe inside of a God who we say is everywhere, but then act as though there are places in which God is or is not. Do you really think that bar or that porn shop somehow managed to carve a little void out of God? Or, that there are spaces of light and dark within Him? That there are spaces in which God is not?

No, what I propose is something completely different. I propose that there is no such thing as a sacred space and that everywhere is a sacred space. I propose that the nature "church" is completely different than anything we ever imagined.

Now as far as the other misconception, where I (or we) are light entering into the dark, I would also have to point out that this is nothing more than an error in our thinking. If we read that the "light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" then that would imply that the dark cannot understand and will have no appreciation for the light. But this is not what we see in Christ's interactions with drunkards, scoundrels and prostitutes in the Bible -- they cling to him and want to be around him.

There had to be some light, some divine spark, inside of these people in order for them to recognize light and appreciate it instead of disdain it.

In the same way, these people today when I enter the pubs, bars and tattoo parlors around me comprehend and appreciate the moments we spend together -- it means a lot to me as well. I don't feel as though I'm some light in the darkness. No, what I feel is my light interacting with and acknowledging their own. What I feel is community and not evangelism. I feel as though I am interacting with other children of God and not outsiders.

In fact, not only are these people coming voluntarily to church in a bar, but they were the ones who asked for one to be started in the first place. It is taking place upon their invitation. Now how in the world can we say there is no light in them or this space after that?

Furthermore, if we truly believe the theology of the Divine Indwelling where "I (Christ is) in them (us) and You (God) in me (Christ)" then how is there any space in which you enter where the presence of Christ is not? Why do we even look upwards or to an outside force when we pray instead of within? And why do we look to a temple or building when we are the temple today?

In closing, let me state that intent is everything. It is the agent that can change something from being secular to sacred in an instant. The Roman Catholic Catechism, when discussing sacred spaces or holy objects, states that "There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God" and become a new sacrament.

Holy Water is holy because it was set apart for either the sanctification of man or to bring glory to God -- without that it's just water. Prayer without intent is just words hanging in the air; the most eloquent being nothing compared to the stammering, sloppy prayer of a humble and contrite heart. Sacramentals are not limited to the "approved" ones in Church history, but can be anything if we are helping man or bringing glory to God. So too, a bar can become a sacred space, music can become worship and that rock in your pocket can become a sacred object.