It was like this. A decade ago. It’s Sunday, I am in church. The chair I am sitting in is comfortable, clearly made with a guy like me in mind. In fact, everything is nice. And like all the other people around me I am sitting up straight and willingly/unwillingly participating in a kind of mass karaoke. The music is a little annoying genre-wise, but hey it’s church, and again, everything is nice. Everything is also well-coordinated, almost scripted, there are no disturbances and all the energies are thematically focused. The presentation is very pleasing. The singers are good. The guys are a little wussy but tolerable. The girls on the stage are probably screened/coached for the attractive female factor. Not in a sexual or indecent way, it is more like being in a Target commercial. It’s very visual. There is no question that this event is engineered with people like me in mind. Sometimes it’s not bad to be in someone’s target audience.
Easily bored I start admiring the facility itself. Sheesh. This place is set up like the USS Enterprise. Lighting, acoustics, visuals, color – wow. I was honestly impressed by this modern fusion of practicality and plenty.
And then it hit me; the answer to a mystery that has bugged me since I was ten. I know that Christian groups have gone to war with each other occasionally but I’ve always had a hard time connecting with why. Suddenly, sitting here in the coolest place in town I realize that there is a boatload of fortune to be had in the good will of the faithful masses. And it occurred to me that I was receiving a demographic smooze as a potential supporter of this sub-cultural phenomenon. but then a caveat occurs to me as I begin to realize that I am sitting here, comforted and entertained in the name of a Cause that defines itself by personal sacrifice. I don’t want to sound morose or introspective, really I’m not, but something about this makes me uncomfortable.
If that hour on Sunday was used as a device to create connections to our neighbors, and if we used those connections to win and disciple each other, that would be OK. That would be better than OK, that would be fantastic. By all means then, use every thing we’ve got to introduce the un-redeemed to the Christ. But that has never been the reality in any place I have seen. And I think it’s because we are sold out to the enterprise of animating our heritage instead of healing the train-wreck messed-up upside-down un-redeemed lives all around.
It made me flash back to another church I visited many years ago in Valparaiso, In. There was nothing comfortable about it. The music was a cross between Garage and World beat, a lot of talent but not a stellar mix. The room was full of distractions. The facility was a converted supper club, oddly arranged but working. It felt organized, organized like an avalanche. One look at the crowd and I felt like I was with my messed up neighbors. No one was dressed for church. It was as culturally diverse as the city it was in, which was a lot. It was obvious that the reason for being there was defined differently than other churches in the neighborhood. There was no sense of the usual “it’s out there and we’re getting some too” attitude (spoken or unspoken) about prosperity, nor did I sense the churchy attitude that considers the whole sordid hell-bound world too nasty to touch. There was more a sense of “we’d give it all without regret.” And it seemed like almost every one had bought into that philosophy, from the goth-ish teenagers in the hallway to the 50 something white guy in the first aisle seat. They must talk a lot about being unselfish. I felt welcome. It was easy to imagine Jesus as being very comfortable here. I mean, less role-playing more candor, less protocol more conversation, less spectacle more rapport, less membership driven more people driven, less marketing more loving. And it was growing like crazy. I miss that.
I’m know that what happens in a public meeting, at least as far as a church is concerned, is only a the tip of the iceberg regarding the true character of the group. If that does not feel at all like Jesus, what lies under the surface?
Jesus just doesn’t seem very membership driven to me, at least not in the way we are defining church membership. I think it would be better to define him as disciple driven, and so his hand-picked men. They did seem to have a sense that there was not a city on the earth whose inhabitants were not in God’s plan. And probably for that reason their “churches” were familiar to the people they gathered. Sadly, my city is like most cities, most of the churches are more about the church than the inhabitants of the city. Church growth is the same old dance of winning Christians to the churches. Winning them to churches that are more modern and better led than the last one. Even our missions have a popularity/marketing factor. At the other end of the pendulum, there are the stodgy and stale, pretending that things don’t change. I can understand the drift of the deChurched. I try not to be cynical, and I have been in church ministry most of my life, but I am dying for a church that is more like Jesus, less like everything else. Don’t get me wrong, I love the church and I love the show, the more off the hook the better, but it just seems like we are comfortable with church that is characterized by values unlike Jesus’.