I’ve been done with church for some time in the sense that most of the gatherings of people that I’ve met with on a Sunday morning have been more interested, from my perspective, in enjoying the event that we’ve mistaken called worship (this will be the next post!). We literally say things like “worship was great today” or “I really didn’t get much out of that” as if the goal of what we’re doing is to be altogether pleased at the end of the day by what was done for us.
If you have read any of the other posts in this “reset series” you’ll know that this is not to say that I consider myself unchristian or non-christian, I just don’t align myself with what seems to be the mainstream philosophies about church.
Let’s start here. If I had to sum up my thoughts on church in one sentence it would be this:
Church tends to be the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine, whose design complicates the simple matters of living like Jesus and loving on others with extraneous, counter-productive, wasteful, and often damaging processes.
:: me ::
The churches of my past have been about staying faithful to a set of added “rules” – Brian McLaren in “A Generous Orthodoxy” calls these doctrinal directives – things that people have added on to the core message of Jesus because we think it’s better for us. You’ve often heard jokes and references to certain denominations not being allowed to dance – THAT’S a doctrinal directive. Churches today tend to be more about show and self-interest – either pushing high-tech boundaries making screens and projectors and video the center of attention or about building larger better-equipped buildings in nice parts of town with more services and higher-paid and presumably better staff, or about telling its visitors about how they can game God like Madoff gamed wall street to get the most of what God has to give.
I’m not interested in those things.
I’m not interesting in building or expanding an empire that I then have some obligation to protect.
I’m not interested in building a machine that turns a wheel and kicks a ball and bursts a balloon and pulls a llamas tail whose spit hits a target that turns a crank and sets off a firecracker and rings a bell and shoots a ping pong ball to swing a hockey stick that strikes me in the back of my knees so I can kneel down to pray.
The church, I continue to contend, is people and nothing more. Church as we understand it is a doctrinal directive: something we’ve added on to be a tangible representation of the body of Christ. But in doing so it seems that as we lose touch with Jesus, we tend to think of him more as a superhero with superpowers than a living, breathing, human version of God whose compassion, simplicity, rationality, love, and justice changed the world forever. And because we think of Him in this way, we feel like the treatment of a superhero should include spotlights and smoke machines and big screens.
Perhaps instead of pastor, “hype man” would be a more fitting title.
Of course I see the value in these things and I understand that 2009 is different than 9. I’m not saying that we should give up meeting together, because that’s not what God intended either. I should also point out that I get in my car nearly every sunday and drive across town to meet with others who are on this journey.
An aside: Watershed for me represents a church that gets that what they’re trying to do isn’t about them and that worship is more than about what happens on a Sunday morning. If Watershed did not exist, I would likely not go to church unless I was able to find a similar community. Yes, every one has a different idea of how the band should be mixed and at what volume the video should be played. And eliminating distractions are important – if the goal is a clearer view of the compassion and grace that Jesus is. I can take being asked to change the volume on the board if I recognize that it’s not an insult to my mix. At the core of my Watershed experience has been a focus on living a compassionate, grace-filled life that’s full of rich, rewarding, symbiotic and purposeful relationships. If any church becomes more about THE SHOW than SHOWING GRACE, I couldn’t be a part of that.
Part of this discussion relates to the question “what is worshp?” as well which I’ll deal with in my next “reset” post.
Perhaps it would best be said this way…
For some reason, we’ve put church attendance, performance, teaching, development in the center of what it means to be a Christian. We have a concept that big, bright, bold, beautiful churches are successful churches; that these places are obviously doing something right. There is a concept that a church’s relevance to today’s target audience is in direct proportion to the number of projectors in use on Sunday morning. Then, from this “church at the center” approach, in concentric circles radiating outwards fall the other responsibilities of being a Chrisitian . . . things like studying the Bible, praying regularly, helping people, etc, etc.
In this model, going to church helps you do these other things better – pray better, live better, worship better, find more opportunities to help people, etc.
How did the church become the center? Why did church become the center?
Isn’t Christ the center of Christianity?
Didn’t he say (and I mostly paraphrase here) to hell with religion?
Perhaps this is just conceptual and maybe is only of benefit to me. Maybe it’s even cliché.
Church shouldn’t be the central focus of Christianity. Trying to figure out Jesus, living with the same compassion that made life better for EVERYONE that he came in contact with, loving EVERYONE as they are, not after meeting a set of conditions . . . THAT’S the center. THAT’S what makes all this other stuff make sense.
I’m not saying stop going to church. I’m not saying there’s more to church than meets the eye.
I’m saying there’s less to church than meets the eye.
To the people trying to figure out this Jesus life: Don’t make church the center of your faith. It’s important, yes. But compassion is more important. Grace is more important. Where you go on a Sunday is a matter of personal preference, not life or death. Try and discern what the goals of your community are. Is it building? Is it expanding? Is it becoming the most recognized church in your town? Is it propagating your religion or values? Or is it about counter-cultural living? Is it about Justice and actively finding ways to do the right thing?
I’m done with church. And I’m just getting started.