Most every Sunday morning you will find me up in front a group of people with my Bible open and my voice somewhere between enthusiastically impassioned and shouting. I love the act of preaching. It is an opportunity for me to talk publicly about my beloved – Jesus. It is my opportunity give voice to the story unfolding around us – whether we see it or not. The story is there. Reconciliation of marriages. Hope for the hopeless. Forgiveness. Grace to the undeserved. Sharing a meal. It is the simple acts of kindness from one image bearer to another image bearer. These things matter deeply.
They have to.
If they don’t, I want no part of Sunday morning.
I love the gathered community we call the church. It warms my heart as people walk through the doors of the building our church gathers in. They come smiling, shaking hands, and sharing a hug. There is a sense that those who gather here truly love one another. I love our space. The place we gather. It symbolizes years of gospel faithfulness. At times I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the family of God joining their individual voices into one voice to sing the majesty of Jesus.
But if that is the pinnacle of what we do as a church I am not interested one bit.
Not at all.
Because gathering together and singing songs, as good as it is, isn’t good enough to keep me interested. I don’t care how good the music is or how cool the light show is. These things are only good enough to make me come back to the show. That’s it. I will not engage in dying to myself so that Christ might live because the lights are awesome and the band is tight.
Don’t get me wrong, I think these things are great. Nor am I bashing churches that have these things and use them. Our church has lights. We have good music. I do not think they are bad, wrong, evil, or anything else. I think they are morally neutral. But often times we see this odd competitive thing happen between Christians as they compare the coolness of the social club they belong to…I mean church they belong to. That may seem like a jab, and to some degree it is. But my fear is that we treat the church as a social club we belong to rather than the bride of Christ led by the Holy Spirit to join in God’s restorative work. When Sunday morning becomes the focus of the church experience I think we are creating a major problem. The primary experience of church should not be programmatic offerings. It should be Jesus embodied.
In the hospitality of the church one should experience grace and space to meet Jesus.
In the kindness of the church one should experience the kindness of Jesus.
In baptism one should experience the death and resurrection of Jesus.
At the table one should experience the passion of Christ for each person bearing his image.
In the Church people should experience Jesus.
Sunday morning is important. In a very real sense it is a weekly re-enactment of that first resurrection morning where all things were brought under the hope of life not death. We need to gather and being reminded of this reality. We need to reorient our lives around it and be encouraged to live in the hope of resurrection when despair seems to rule the day. Which is why great music and fancy set designs and relevant messages aren’t enough.
Sadly, for many people Sunday morning is the only time they open the Bible during the week (if at all. The scripture may be on the screen so they don’t have to). For many people the sermon is the closest thing they have to discipleship in their life. For many people, their faith is lived vicariously through the pastor. As long as the pastor is growing into the image of Christ, then everything is okay. We can be frustrated by this reality but I think there comes a point when we have to ask ourselves, “Is that happening because we have created space for that to occur?” Systems theory says that you are getting the results your system is designed to get. We can bemoan the spiritual apathy existing in our churches, but at some point we have to say, “The system is getting the results it is designed to get.”
In know I am being somewhat reductionist, but in our consumeristic culture people often base their choice of church, not on how they experience Jesus, but on the programmatic offerings of the church. On the show.
Is the music good?
Is the sermon relevant?
Is the children’s ministry going to keep my kids engaged?
Is there a small groups ministry?
Are the bathrooms clean?
I rarely hear people say they chose a church because they experienced Jesus. One could argue that people experience Jesus through the above programmatic offerings, and I would say that is likely true. But even in saying that I would be sure to emphasize that those things do not make a church. Not as the New Testament describes church. Paul says In Ephesians 3:10 that God’s in was that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus.” Let’s be real, the awesomeness of the stage design on a Sunday morning is not good enough to display the manifold wisdom of God to the universe. It’s just not.
If that is the best we got, then no wonder droves of people are leaving the church in America. The church will never be able to compete with a big concert, or a Broadway show, or even Chuck-E-Cheese. Nor should we try! The church is not called to compete with culture, rather the church is called to create a whole new culture. A culture focused on the redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of individuals, communities, and the world. That’s a church I want to be a part of!
Yes, let’s gather together. Let’s sing songs. Let’s hear motivating messages. Let’s have great stuff for our kids. Let’s do it all with excellence. But for the sake being the church, let’s us fight so church is much more than that!
What say you? What do you want from church?