Confession: I love the Church, but I’m not always a fan of how Christians walk it out. (And, I include myself in that assessment.) The other night, I told my family that I’m taking a break from Sunday morning gatherings for a while and it took them some time to find their words. For the record, I actually LOVE our community of people. This is the most content I’ve felt among a body of believers in a really long time, if ever. We meet at a concert venue/bar and worship is stripped down. We don’t have programs, or classes, and the only regularly scheduled activity is a weekly morning meet up at a local coffee shop. We’re encouraged to be in our community, which is what our family is all about.
So, what’s the problem? (Problem isn’t the right word choice here, but regardless, it feels like the obvious question that most people would ask.)
In simple terms, something feels off. And, to be fair, I doesn’t have anything to do with our specific church. It’s more about American church culture and what we’ve made our Sunday morning services about. Our family has been around the block a few times, and literally around the country, experiencing worship gatherings across the theological spectrum. From the congregation that practices high orthodoxy and orthopraxy, to the groups that would be annoyed by the perceived arrogance associated with both of those words, the iterations of church gatherings are too many to count, but if we’re honest, I think each member of our family would probably agree that all of them just seemed a little… off.
I will attempt to break down some of the bigger issues. (Entire books have been written about this subject, so my synopsis will be lacking, but it will underscore a few points.) At the end of the day, I feel like there are three, maybe four, basic church operating models. From our experience, most people want to group churches into two categories: Mega-church and non-mega (small) church. This is understandable, but I also think it’s too simplistic. More importantly, understanding some of the nuances of these two groups helps paint a better picture of some of the problems.
#1: Mega-churches – Upfront, I’m not here to bash mega-churches. (It’s true… I don’t understand them, but I know a whole lot of followers of Jesus who serve and lead these churches. Remember, this is about putting my finger on what I perceive to be “off”.) Mega-churches can also be broken into sub-groups, like one site and multi-sight. Some of the “red flags” can be seen in both of these examples. Many of these churches are insular, meaning YOU come to THEM. They have programs and classes for everything under the sun. Honestly, there’s no need to be in the community, because they have created their OWN community. (I could write a whole post just on this one topic!) There are multiple services a day and sometimes on multiple days. Everything is well rehearsed and well oiled, to the point that every service is exactly the same. (And some would argue, to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit.)The multi-site is actually more confounding to me. It’s like church planting in a way, branching out into other neighborhoods and communities, but refusing to allow autonomy. Additionally, there’s also something disconcerting to me with the multi-site models where the lead pastor will entrust a campus pastor to shepherd a flock, but not to give the sermon.
#2: Small church – This is my preference, but it’s not without it’s own set of blindspots. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve met church leaders who put more of an emphasis on NOT being a mega-church than on WHY small church is important to them. Being the antithesis of a mega church doesn’t make you better. Whether you are a small church that meets in a building, or a home church, your size and location don’t legitimize you in the eyes of the Lord. In our experience, home churches can be just as insular, or more so, than mega churches. And arrogant. We’ve also been a part of small churches that essentially utilize all the programing of a mega-church, but on a smaller scale. They offer the same classes and programs, just with smaller attendance. They spend most of their money on buildings and salaries, just smaller amounts.
So, what’s the answer?
I have no idea, but I have a few guesses. One of the similarities we’ve seen in both the mega church and small church models include the emphasis on “bringing” people to church. And I think this is part of the problem… thanks, in part, to the Seeker Church movement. In my opinion, the church gathering is for believers… not to the exclusion of “seekers” but, not catered to them. I believe it’s a time for fellow Christians to come together, worshiping the Lord, celebrating the work He is doing IN us and THROUGH us. But, aside from the worship services that resemble rock concerts (which leaves many questioning WHAT you’re worshiping), a lot of the churches we’ve visited looked more like college lecture rooms with students daydreaming, doodling, or fighting the urge to fall asleep.
There’s a weird disconnect.
So, for the next three months, I’ve decided to do something a little out of character for me: Not attend Sunday morning services. I’ve had a few people ask why I think this is necessary and the answer is simple: It isn’t. But, it’s something I keep coming back to. And I think it’s more about what the Lord is doing in me than anything else. Some of us have made Sunday morning into a ritual, or even a mindless routine. For some, an idol. But there’s also something else. I see the Lord mightily at work in the people and places around our town. While our backgrounds are varied, our feelings about the church are oddly similar: We love it, but our city isn’t necessarily impacted by it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot going on. Incredibly wonderful things. A lot of the people we work with are regular congregants at other local churches and some aren’t, but they all say the same thing: The Lord is doing something, inexplicably connecting us. And I want to press into that.
I need to press into that.
I’m not sure I have all the words to correctly articulate my thought process here. But, maybe my hypothesis would be something like this: If you invest in the lives of the people around you… the Church will organically form. My hope, after the three months, and maybe beyond, is to be connected to a community of believers that are living FOR Jesus. Where their Christianity isn’t cultural… it’s consuming. Where our community is better because we are a part of it. And where we don’t view our Sunday morning sermons as weekly pep talks to get us through the next six days, but that our time together is a true celebration of everything the Lord has done in and through us during the week. It feels a little lofty and optimistic…
… but it also feels like Jesus.
So, I’m taking a few months to turn over the soil in my own heart and, in the meantime, I’ll be here, every week, to share more about what’s going on in our community and wrestle out all my thoughts.