Last week I was asked one of the best questions I’ve been asked in quite sometime. After reading a post on my blog concerning (what else) the church, I was asked what I specifically meant when I asked “what if things were completely different”. Specifically, this person wanted to know what “different” would look like? She put me on the spot. It was a great question.
We talk a lot about this don’t we? We want things to be different! We look around our church, see people going through the motions, see our churches being largely ineffective, secretly know that we could never actually invite our lost friends to “this version of church”, and want “change”. But when it comes down to it, can any of us really put our finger on what “change” would even look like?
I’ve been working with young people now for eighteen years. It’s very hard to believe. And over the course of those eighteen years I have taken several opportunities to sit down with groups of Christian young people and ask them the following question; if you could make church look anyway you wanted to, what would it look like? You might be fascinated (as I am) to know that in almost every case, the “church” they described to me was only a slightly more contemporary version of the church they were already attending. Better music, better message, some form of drama, and more young people involved. And believe me, I tried to drag more out of them. I was never satisfied with their answer. In fact, I’ve always been a little disheartened by their answers because I too want something different yet can’t seem to put my finger on what that difference would be.
But when I do think about it, it always seems to boil down to “authenticity”. I don’t want to be going through any motions. I want everything we offer the Lord to be authentic. To have real passion and meaning behind it. And I want it to be something that expresses something very important, relevant and (yes) authentic to a lost person. What difference does my style of “religion” really make to my own life and to the lives around me? When I get up and share my testimony, does it basically deliver the message that “once I was sad, but now I’m really happy!” I hope there’s more to it than that. I hope that my religion has compelled me to live differently and that that new lifestyle isn’t just inward focused. If my version of “spirituality” can only be seen by me, who cares? And if my version of “religion” only causes me to express my “spirituality” in ways that are strange and rather irrelevant to everybody else, it’s pretty useless except for a personal escape. We Christians make so much noise about the need to adopt our way of life, yet we continue to be inward focused, unhappy, involved in scandals, and generally not having much impact on the western world these days except to insist that everybody else adopt our moral stance whether they are a Christian or not.
Still, what would it look like to be “different”?
When people ask this, and when I’ve asked it in the past, I’ve generally been asking specifically about the corporate worship service. If you could change anything about it, what would it be? But maybe that question is the problem. Maybe the problem with our churches these days is that we can’t see beyond the worship service or see the need to be something more than the worship service. Consider this; when somebody asks you “what kind of church you attend”, what is your first response? When I ask this question of people, they most often draw from their worship service to come up with an answer. We are a traditional, or contemporary, or gen X, or blended congregation. What they mean is that they sing only hymns, or do a little bit of both, or have a rock band that leads them in worship. Their Sunday morning worship defines them as a church. Isn’t that a bit strange?
Do you see that sort of definition anywhere in the Bible? Certainly the Biblical Jews wouldn’t have described themselves in those terms. If you asked an ancient Jewish scholar to define himself in spiritual terms, he would have most likely drawn on his own personal understanding of theology. I am a Pharisee, or a Sadducee, or an Essene, they might have said. But they never would have described themselves in terms of their worship service. It’s a strange phenomenon and one that I fear has gotten us a bit off track when it comes to the mission of the church.
I really believe that our worship services should be beside the point. They shouldn’t be the point. And if that were the case, I truly believe that things would be “different”. In fact, if “being the church” were the point, I truly believe that people of all ages and backgrounds would be a lot less concerned with the particular “genre of music”, or “style of dress”, or any number of the other issues that we so often get caught up with in the church. If we were “being the church”, the particulars of the worship service would be seen just as they should; as a part of what we do as Christians. And if they were only a part of what we do, rather than the main thing, surely people wouldn’t fret when they were changed up a bit? And surely others wouldn’t look for their fulfilment in the song selection? Those types of things would be beside the point.
So maybe that’s where we start. When somebody asks you what kind of church you attend, be honest. What kind of CHURCH do you attend?
For more thoughts, check out this rewrite of the closing passage of Proverbs taken from Dave Jones blog, Mover of Sedition
A good church – who can find?
She has a culture of honesty about her failings.
She desires to worship always. And in all ways.
Her sung, corporate worship is an expression of her joy in serving God in the community she lives in.
She values substance over style.
She desires practice over theory.
She is desperate to know God, to serve God and to love His people.
She upsets the comfortable and comforts the upset.
Her friends & allies are the poor, the outcast, the unlovely & unloved.
She does not seek change for change sake.
She is intolerant of pretence, preferring even the most painful truth.
She loves those who hate her and seek her destruction.
She cries at injustice, and poverty, and brokenness.
She wants to understand God's Kingdom. And make it real – here and now.
She is both admired and feared – usually by the same people.
She frequently finds herself in trouble.
She survives, even thrives, by seeking others' needs above her own.
She loves truth and will only sing truth.
She makes friends of the lowly & is regarded as an enemy by the elite.
She rejects earthly riches.
She fails in most, if not all of the above.
She carries on anyway – to stop trying would be the greatest failure of all.
All God's children will rise up & call her blessed.
I read those words today after I wrote this original post. They were so powerful, and so moved me, that I decided to tag them on to the end of my own. They will, no doubt, be words that I return to and even use in corporate worship for years to come. Thanks Dave.