Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ecclesiastical What Ifs

When I was in seminary, I had to do a yearlong internship. Interns get handed lots of projects that usually include a lot of recruiting.

Seventeen years later, I don't even remember what I recruiting for in this particular instance, but I do remember this story:

One particular fellow had expressed interest in whatever it was. One night, we had something going on at the church and his wife was there. She came up to me and said apologetically, "He's so sorry, but he's going to have to say no this time. He's so busy right now with Boy Scouts and the Volunteer Fire Department, he really doesn't have the time. He feels really badly about it."

In the moment, I just said okay, and started thinking about who I was going to ask next.

But this stuck with me. Here was a man, an active member of the church, also being active in his community in ways that were really significant. It's not as if he were going home after work and watching TV.

No, it finally dawned on me, he was out in the world, being salt and light, being among people other than Christians, doing good things. Why should he feel bad about that?

It seems that there must be other ways to be the church than simply being busy at the church building.

This is one of those posts where I don't have answers, but a few questions (some answers implied, some not, but all open to discussion).

What if Sunday morning were the center of our Christian life. What if it was the time of the week when we all came together to worship, lament, praise, hope, pray, sing, eat, hear, and speak?

What if rather than spending so much time trying to find ways for people to get involved at the church, we were instead asking about---and encouraging!---ways that people are involved in the world? Where are you salt and light? Where did you add savor to the world? Where did you illuminate a dark corner? Praise God! Thanks be to God! Is there a need over there for more help? Can I help leaven that loaf, make it rise? What if people saw us engaged in the world, in whatever way God calls us, and were amazed at how we moved in the world, not just holed up in the church, maintaining the organization?

It seems like a big, but maybe just a subtle shift in thinking about what a congregation is or does. There are always administrative needs to be taken care of. There are always people needed to count and deposit the offering, to prepare and wash the communion chalice. But it also seems there are always endless needs beyond our church walls. What if rather than a council with many committees that can't find members, we had a council with more support functions, that were less about recruiting people to be involved at the church (although some of that is obviously needed), but were there to help make sure that people were involved in the world?

I don't have a clear picture of what this would look like. I think in the end it would create less work for the administrative staff (including pastors). I think it would open us up more fully to the movement of the Spirit---following gifts and callings rather than proscribed slots on a committee that may not be needed anymore. I think it would turn people toward thinking about a Christian life that is lived 24/7, rather than just when we are in the building with the steeple. I think it would be evangelism in the root meaning of the world---I think it would be Good-News-bearing to the world.

This feels even more incoherent than usual. I'm so close to the current model of how we do church that even as I brainstorm about a new way, I find myself thinking "that'll never work."

But there needs to be another way of doing church, a way that encourages and rewards people like the man in in my opening paragraphs. There needs to be a way of being the church that doesn't make someone involved in ministry feel guilty for not being involved in the church.

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha! You just landed at the airport I've been using for a while. A lot of us are asking what Church should really look like, and you're coming up with the same questions and answers we are.

    One of the coolest church services I have been to was last Sunday in Albania. The first half hour was just hanging out ("fellowship" in the original churchese), followed by a birthday party for a two year old (complete with inflatable balloon animals in the sanctuary and a cake with candles and firework fountains, yes-- indoors), then worship, testimonies, a brief sermon, baptisms, gigantic fireworks (in town, no less), and food.

    Beyond that, I'm totally down with the rest of it. The mission trip to Albania was mostly unscheduled until the day before in most cases, and pretty much always involved just loving on people based on who we are and what Daddy put on our hearts. It included praying for "random" people on the street, blessing the ice cream lady with what turned out to be twice her daily wages just because that's how we felt Daddy loving on her, taking whoever we were talking with to dinner, becoming a carnival for the Roma kids, helping lead worship in three languages (only one of which we knew), looking for ways to help grow businesses, time at the beach, dancing and clubbing, you name it. All with God in the center.

    Back here, not sure where we'll settle, congregation-wise. Wherever it is, our main focus will be out in the bigger world, doing life.

    SO..., I'm with you, bro. Come to think of it, a whole bunch of us are. I'm running across more people asking these questions every day. Huzzah!