This worship idea uses a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, The Church at Auvers, to reflect on what image our churches project to those outside their walls.

It is suitable for use in a service or small group/youth group. It involves the entire congregation/group going outside at the end! You could get different people to read the quote and the bible passage to vary the voices.

Put up The Church at Auvers PowerPoint slide. Read the following script:

Spend some time looking at this painting of a church by Vincent van Gogh. Do you notice anything unusual about it? (NB: there is no light coming from its windows, the interior is as dark as the night sky outside.)

Van Gogh painted this picture, The Church At Auvers, shortly before he died. The artist was born the son of a Protestant preacher and he began his career as a missionary to miners in Belgium.

He was so struck by the poverty he encountered that he gave away many of his possessions, including most of his clothes. The church decided that van Gogh was overzealous and his ministry was halted.

In 1879 van Gogh left the church and turned to art, disillusioned by his experience of organised religion. The Church at Auvers is painted from the point of view of an outsider looking in.

Wikipedia says of this painting:

"The foreground of The Church at Auvers is brightly lit by the sun, but the church itself sits in its own shadow, and "neither reflects nor emanates any light of its own." After Van Gogh had been dismissed from the evangelical career he had hoped to continue, he wrote to his brother Theo and quoted Shakespeare's image from Henry V Part I of the dark emptiness inside a church to symbolize "empty and unenlightened preaching": "Their God is like the God of Shakespeare's drunken Falstaff, 'the inside of a church''"

Jesus had a lot to say about what Shakespeare called "empty and unenlightened preaching", and religious organisations akin to private members' clubs, more concerned with rules and appearances than with truly reflecting God's light and love to those outside their walls:

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.
Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
"Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it."

Luke 11: 37 - 54

Do you think our church is welcoming enough?

How would it appear to someone standing outside looking in?

How does the wider Church appear to those outside it?

Are modern religious organisations ever guilty of "neglecting justice and the love God" as Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing?

Action: Go outside and spend some time looking back at [insert the name of your church], either up close or from a distance. As you look, ask God to show you how you could better reflect his light to the people you come into contact with. Pray for his help to make the church even more of a welcoming and un-intimidating place, a place where someone like van Gogh, with all his complexities and issues, would feel accepted and at home.

(c) Chloe Axford/

Sources: Wikipedia, van Gogh At Eternity's Gate by Kathleen Powers Erikson,