I’ve been staring at a blank page for a couple days now. I think partly because the days are growing shorter and winter is coming (gasp), and that just doesn’t make me that excited for life. But if I look past those things, there are some big things I’ve been dreaming about lately.
Yes, this is another, “Allison is going to rant about a church thing” but it’s also not. Because I think there’s something hopeful and constructive about this line of thinking — which I don’t think has been as present in my thought-process for a while now.
Timothy started an interim worship and music directing position, and it’s led us to think about a lot of worship-y and music-y things. I’m trying to be grateful to him and this community and our larger church that’s all over the world, but I can’t help but see things that make me want to rip my hair out.
Surrounded by questions of “Did enough people come to worship today?” and “Where are the swarm of kids that filled up the church during the children’s sermon a few weeks ago?” – I wonder if we’re measuring success in unhelpful ways (great articles here, here, and here). These questions are asked at churches and in church leadership in LOTS of places: East coast, Midwest, West coast, urban, rural, contemporary (whatever that means), traditional (whatever that means). Fear, anxiety, counting heads, and trading in imagination for job protection…. the lists go on, the tensions go on, and they all seem to really be inward looking. Needless to say, I don’t think they’re helpful.
I think we can be imaginative. I say “we” as in people who go to church and people who don’t go to church very often – because we all have something to contribute when imagining about what could be since religion and society are so intertwined and influence each other significantly. There’s no “us and them” in these questions. There’s “us”. Together, we can contribute to the conversation about church. You don’t have to be “Christian-y” enough to speak up, at least that’s what I think.
We can ask: What’s the point of church? What’s the point of communion? What’s the point of baptism? What’s the point of faith?
I know, giant questions. But let’s take a shot.
What if instead of inviting people into church buildings to experience God in their life (most likely once a week, if we’re being honest?), we bring practices and small tweaks to people’s daily lives that encourage an awareness of God in their daily lives – you know, the ugly and pretty daily walk in which God promises to be with us more than just once a week (see Isaiah 43:1-2)?
For instance: Communion. Often happens in a church building, yes? We hear that Christ is for us as we experience God’s presence in daily things (for most of us): food & drink. We remember the last supper, when Jesus had supper with his closest friends, with people he loved (Mark 14, Matt 26, Luke 22, John 13).
Depending on the size of a congregation, this is practiced by handing each person a wafer or small piece of bread and a small cup wine or grape juice. An experience that might last 5 seconds and often includes standing in line and going back to your spot, in a pew (you’re back in a line, but sitting).
Does anyone else see how distant this practice has become from Jesus’ last supper?
What if we actually had supper/dinner together and that was communion? Imagine it: Everyone comes together and brings their favorite dish (see: pot luck). We hear words of blessing from a non-pastor that remind us that it’s not all about us and God is for us, the haves, and the have-nots. We all dish ourselves and sit down with our full plates. As friends, we listen and share about our day today. We look at each other’s faces as we talk (great reflection here). Is this not communion? Sharing a meal we all want to have anyway (dinner) and hearing God is for you, the Christian, and you, the non-Christian?
This is just one idea. But bringing an awareness of God into a daily thing – I think it’s what an honest-to-goodness walk with God looks like – not a once-per-week 60 minute experience on a Sunday morning, but a daily reminder that God is for us! God is for you! I don’t care who you are, that’s news we need EVERY DAY.
My question – could this be church? Is it already church? If so, where is it, because I want to see it! And I think this is so important to me because my research and observations tell me that church needs a major revamp and perhaps needs to get back to what’s important. The church (the people who I associate with it) have invested in me, and I want to give back. I think this conversation about church and success needs some help.
I’m hungry for a church where success is not measured by the number of butts in the pews but the depth at which lives are changed because they know:
- You’re enough.
- You deserve love and connection.
- You matter.
Is that so hard? It must be – because I can’t point a church that’s living these messages out right now. Perhaps other communities are? For-profit organizations? Non-governmental organizations? Creative communities? Online communities? For me, these values are the root of the message I read in the Bible. How might someone learn these messages/beliefs/values?
Because here’s what I think:
If Jesus led you to these beliefs…
If Muhammed led you to these beliefs…
If a “divine spark” led you to these beliefs…
That’s great. These things are still true:
- You’re enough.
- You deserve love and connection.
- You matter.
These values are what Jesus was all about. Saying and being these things over and over again. Not boxing people in; not loving some and ignoring others; not liking — but LOVING, and LOVING – a lot, to everybody. All are welcome, right?
So why do churches (your church, my church, your grandparents’ church, churches that I have worshiped in, led, preached at, you name it) draw lines — physically draw lines to direct people to walk up to the front of a church to receive communion, to experience God’s presence; we play in boxes, we think in boxes, we preach that Jesus is THE answer, implying that other answers are not only wrong but outside of human imagination and experience.
We live in a post-9/11 society. The world has seen many shifts, and we must treat this time in history as a time of significant shift – a shift in political views and policies, economic and social privileges, values and prejudices. Likewise, there’s a shift in religious and spiritual thinking and dialogue. This means the church has a massive opportunity to speak into this new reality. But does it? Will it?
What does it mean to be a Christian in a post-9/11 society? This a huge question, but one whose answer might make or break the future of Christianity — it would surely re-shape it — and I hope for the better. With genuine hope, I believe it could re-shape our values, our vision, our practices, our understanding of leadership and our daily lives that usher in a new way of being a Christian person in the world.
We can’t keep doing business as usual. I’m not saying “The church must stay relevant! Everybody’s forgetting about the church!” We don’t need contemporary bands, traditional liturgy, new pews, or pastors with more experiences at “The Celebration of Biblical Preaching” than they know what to do with (no offence, but when the majority of pastors use their entire continuing education budget on this one event every year, we have a problem. What I am saying, is that if the only answer to “Why are we doing it this way?” is “Because that’s how we’ve always done it,” then we have lost sight of the church’s reason for being. We have lost the vision, the mission, and the values that guide a response to God’s grace — a response that is an opportunity, a celebration, of warmth, humor, vulnerability, courage, and connection. THAT’S a response to God’s UNLIMITED love and grace that I can get behind.
Everyone in my generation has “the story” of where they were on 9/11. I was going into the 9th grade and my mom curled my hair as we watched the buildings burn on TV. On the radio we listened as the Seattle DJs watched the first tower fall as my sister drove us to school. My world didn’t change all that much, 2,800 miles away from New York, but the world changed. The world changed. And it’s changed since. As I write this I can see the flight path out of MSP as I sit here at the nearest Starbucks to Timothy’s work.
Now, all this reflecting and questioning of mine – it’s by no means a guide to make the church healthy or grow exponentially. Like countless church staff around the country (around the world), they (we) face big challenges with often too little support. It’s easy to become cynical, but we must fight that with critical thinking, trust in each other, and faith in Jesus’ unrelenting love and hope.
I think there are just too many good ideas and kind people out there to throw up my hands and say, “I give up.” I see so much beauty and joy going on in the world (God’s created and sustained world), in our own lives and in the lives of neighbors and communities all over the world. It’s happening everywhere, literally, everywhere. I wonder, when will the church see it?