Welcome to a new series that may well last one post. Given that there is no rhyme or reason to when I post or why I post, I figured that would be a fair assessment.
Sunday afternoons I often am in my office. I may go to lunch with the family, I may run home, I may read, but you can often find me sitting in the office after lunch thinking about what has been and preparing for something that evening. At times I have thoughts, other times I don’t. Thus, the new series that may last one post.
This week I’m thinking about being in a local church. . .
(I put this because I feel this incredible pressure to have some image or video on my posts).
If you missed it (and you likely did if you have anything else to do other than watch people talk about things), then you missed Donald Miller (great writer and author of many books, such as Blue Like Jazz) mention that he no longer goes to church regularly (and then, after getting destroyed by many well-to-do Christians, followed up here).
I don’t know Donald (or should I call him Don?). I don’t write like him. I don’t think like him. I don’t have his influence. I don’t have as big a smile as his. I cannot presume to be better than him; and I look forward to being in a sea of grace with him one day worshipping Jesus. I think much of what he said was absolutely true, but I can’t follow it to its fullest expression.
IT IS TRUE THAT CHURCHES (SPECIFICALLY WORSHIP SERVICES) ARE OFTEN BORING
You’ve been there. You’ve seen it. Churches can be some of the least creative, least exciting, least passionate people around. Worship services, in particular, can lull someone to sleep with their monotony and lack of true expressions of love, sacrifice, and admonishment toward godliness. This isn’t me saying we need to have lions in cages at our services or drive out on a Harley to look cool, nor am I saying that a predictable liturgy lacks creativity. I just know that many worship gatherings leave a lot on the table in exchange for going through the motions. Evangelical churches in the south specifically get tempted to generate cookie-cutter services that don’t take in the depth of historical worship in all of its forms. I hate that.
IT IS TRUE THAT MEN STRUGGLE TO ENGAGE IN CHURCH LIFE
Many men, in particular, have a difficult time emoting. That isn’t a bad thing. Our worship songs, in particular, can sometimes express things in ways we would never express ourselves. This isn’t a bad thing, either. We need to be stretched, and we need to sing truths about our God. However, men have responded to this by usually disengaging rather than leading and helping to change a culture. Church leadership often does very little about the exodus and hopes that business as usual will keep people around. (Note: it usually doesn’t keep people around and then those leaders are fired, or worse, they stay employed and kill their churches.)
IT IS TRUE THAT CHURCHES FAIL TO HELP THEIR PEOPLE FIND JOY IN THEIR CAREERS
Don brought up a great point—he feels close to the Lord when working. We should find great delight in the work of our hands—writing, mothering, leading, engineering, teaching, sweeping, jumping, laughing, anything. Many churches have a difficult time helping people see the value and give a Christ-honoring vision for how their work contributes to the mission of God and how they can use it to lead others to Jesus and help them grow in him. That’s a shame because we divorce our Sunday services form the rest of life and then send people out to make a “difference for Jesus” with no vision of how that looks. Folks like Don, and there are many of them, make sense when they share their heart in these things and how their true work is a truer source of connection with God than their participation in worship services. That’s unfortunate.
However, these thoughts keep me from going all-in to Don’s proposition.
LOCAL CHURCH ENGAGEMENT IS THE ONLY KNOWN PARADIGM IN THE SCRIPTURES
We wouldn’t have a New Testament, specifically Acts and the Epistles, if we didn’t have the context of the local church. Being tied to a local body of believers was the expectation, and opting out of that for a larger, more globally connection to the larger Body of Christ wasn’t ever an option. The interconnectedness of people with technology, and the ease of travel, has blurred the lines a bit; but not participating was not a consideration, at least in my understanding. The questions we ask about the local church today would make next to no sense in most other centuries of the church.
WE ALL HELP PEOPLE IN OUR LOCAL CHURCH BECOME MORE LIKE JESUS
I love pastors like Platt and Piper. I’m awed by authors like Yancey and Tolkien. These people have done great good in me to get me to be more like Jesus. But these folks aren’t Kevin McKee, Bruce Lininger, Evan Godbold, Bettejean Cramer, Sherry Fox, Critter Cook, Michael Rhodes, JP Harris, Roger Butner, Ken Drake, Janet Dearman, Craig Corie, Scott Gaspard, Matt Dearman, Jim Haslitt, Dayna Spencer, Jason Spencer, Kay Wallace, Corey O’Quin, Kathy Drake, or the billion of other people who I’ve left out (sorry!) who I have had some kind of significant interaction with that has grown me in grace. I’ll trade a good book for a good conversation with a real person at my church any day.
You know, there are more things I’d like to say; but I realized in writing those names how grateful I am for my church. And I am sure Don is grateful for the people he met through his, though he will attend less often now. I love my church family and would die 1,000 deaths to help them become more like Christ—luckily Jesus died the death that mattered.
For you pastors who enjoy stirring the pot (and I do understand that concern and feel it myself), please be sure you are giving proper attention to the church that is before you as well. And please also ask yourself how many people in your care are going to stop coming because they read a blog post from Donald Miller (the answer is likely none). If they do, then please recognize that an author you’ve likely never met has more influence in your congregation than you do. Work to remedy that.
I learned recently that I can focus on all that is wrong with my church and with other people I don’t know who are on twitter, or I can choose to focus on all that these people could be in Christ. One has much more joy than the other.