Monday over Coffee: ION

Need a Word of Encouragement?



A few weeks ago, our church’s pastoral team toured the new ION Building across Main Street from our Sanctuary. Conceived by world-class minds, designed by world-class architects, and constructed by world-class builders, the 266,000 square foot structure is being billed as a state-of-the-art collaborative space for our region’s most innovative, entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic leaders. National publications will be writing about this shiny, new place very soon. 

Just to walk around the unfinished building was tremendously energizing. Likewise, to imagine all the people the project will soon bring to our church’s doorstep takes one’s breath away. And as remarkable as it will be, the ION Building itself is just one part of a newly-minted Midtown innovation district several blocks long. According to their cool new website, it will “introduce a new kind of urban district to Houston, prioritizing street life, public space, and a mix of uses that embrace technology, community, and sustainability.” You should check it all out at this link.


Standing at the corner of the wrap-around balcony on the building’s fifth floor, we all looked toward downtown, then down the other way toward the Medical Center. It was hard not to remark upon what seemed obvious—that God has been active in the placement of our church at this crossroads for this very moment in time. But beyond this providential consideration and the arresting nature of the view, my thoughts also ran to a book I read when I was in college—one called, Your God is Too Small, by J.B. Phillips.


The book helped me discard some faulty images of God I was still clinging to from childhood that  weren’t holding up to the headwinds of young adulthood. As I made my way through the chapters, I scribbled down a series of thoughts in search of a different kind of faith—one that was truly my own —the sort of faith I felt I could defend to the world, and just as importantly to myself. I’ve revisited the book several times since then, and Phillips’ writing has continued to give me permission to expand my idea of what God might be like: to see Christ as the clearest revelation of God that we have and to explore the contours of a divine grace that is ever-widening, often in counterintuitive and unexpected ways. 


In his introduction to the book, Phillips probes a variety of spiritual psychologies that can keep us from truly connecting to the divine in the midst of a modern world, even though we yearn for transcendence. He writes: 

Many men and women today are living, often with inner dissatisfaction, without any faith in God at all…because they have not found…a God big enough to ‘account for’ life…big enough to command their highest admiration and respect, and consequently their willing cooperation.


The ornate and compelling architecture of our Sanctuary will certainly stand in striking juxtaposition to all the glass and steel in our new neighborhood, but on the balcony, with J.B. Phillips’ words in my mind, I asked myself what might a traditional church like ours have to offer the incredibly intelligent, technologically-savvy, forward-thinking generation who will soon be across the street? Will the image of God we project out to our new neighbors be too small, too provincial, too old-fashioned for this sleek new environment? Is the picture of God we embrace and feel comfortable with big enough to command the highest admiration and respect of those who will soon be a part of this new community? These are big questions with profound tensions that will require some deep thinking, and some agile and quick thinking too.


When I got home that day, I explored the ION website more thoroughly and discovered that those who conceived of the idea of the place have a vision for their community, more than anything else, an “accelerator hub” for exploration, innovation, collaboration, inspiration, creation, and inclusion. It’s also their primary hope to foster a culture where people might “come together to solve some of the world’s greatest problems.” 


With that sort of vision and mission, maybe it won’t be as complicated as I first thought to meaningfully connect to one another. Though the architecture we’ll inhabit will be very different, it could be said that what they ideally intend to do, and what we’re trying to do in the name of the clearest revelation of God that we have, isn’t really that different after all.


God — Help me to be a good neighbor.


Greg Funderburk

Subscribe to the SMBC Blog