Monday, July 21, 2008

The Slow Death of Pews, Sermons, and "Ministries"

The "functional" aspect of the American church continues to distress me.

The hallmark of the early Church was "see how they love one another." Not "see how efficiently they work together" or "see what a fantastic show they put on." Yet we still have SUCH a hard time picturing a shift in focus from ministries, functions, and Sunday mornings towards a community of "love-relationships" -- building each other up and helping each other live a better life for Christ.

In a late-night conversation many of us briefly had on a recent Saturday night, we were discussing how statistics show 20-30 year olds very interested in Jesus, yet running from the church like the plague. Why is that, we wonder. How do we get those people into our local churches?

Some might suggest trendier services on Sunday mornings. Being more seeker-sensitive. Louder music, some hipper clothes on the preacher. A fancier website.

I say all that is like polishing the brass on the Titanic. It looks nice, but it's all going down.

Societal changes in the past 30-40 years have been vast. Society has changed a lot in a short time, in a way that it didn't for hundreds and hundreds of years previously. We went from a "Christian" society (not that everyone was a Christian, but it was the expected thing to be, and there was an environment of Christianity surrounding people) to whatever you want to call it now. Post-modern. Post-Christian. Post-Church. Biblical Christianity is NOT normal now. Most people are NOT surrounded by a Christian environment.

And even more so, people are NOT interested in "the church." We've presented the church to them as a place to go on Sunday mornings, rather than a community of Jesus-followers that love each other. To society, a big Protestant church looks like a huge fancy building with a bunch of paid staff. And it does the following: A) produces a nice show to watch on Sunday mornings, B) has a bunch of "ministries" you can "serve in" to keep the gears turning, depending upon your demographic, and C) exists pretty much to get other people to attend on Sunday mornings. To add more people serving in ministries, plus of course more money in the offering to pay the bills.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't see the church keeping up with society in the 21st century. That doesn't mean it needs to change its Biblical understanding or water down the message of Jesus (not that the church has necessarily done a stellar job of teaching the message of Jesus in the first place). But I do think we need to open up our minds to radical changes that are bigger than just changing up a Sunday morning service or adding additional "ministries" to the mix. I think it needs to, somehow, completely back off from the Sunday morning-centric focus, and begin putting time, people, and resources into forming a COMMUNITY of love. I think people are drawn to love, and people are drawn to community. Even the 20-something crowd.

That probably doesn't mean one big community of 1000 or 5000 people. It's nearly impossible to have a true love-community that big. You'd have to have a number of smaller communities. They've got to commit to one another.

We're a nation that is ruled by functionality. We think of ourselves in terms of our jobs, our careers, and the tasks that we do. And Christians, nay, church-goers, think of themselves by the ministry-tasks that they do. They'll say, I run sound at church. I play some guitar with the praise band. I help out in the nursery. I'm a greeter at the front door. I'm an usher and I pass the communion trays.

There is nothing wrong with any of those tasks. But we need to radically rethink our focus. The "church" is dying.


scott said...

I should also probably point out that the title I used for this blog post was used solely for the sake of getting some people riled up. :-) I see nothing wrong with sermons nor ministries.

However, all pews should be chopped into firewood.

Big Doofus said...

I long for pews. They actually force people to sit closer together--but that's not where I'm going to go with this comment.

Your post was spot on. However, I am a little hesitant to say the "church" is dying or that it needs a "radical" change. The NT spells out the church pretty clearly when it comes to the big picture but leaves out all of the specific details. Isn't that just like God to do that?

I think you're wise (and coming from a biblical point of view) to long for community in the church. We were meant to be together as believers.

Have you all read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer? It is a powerful work on the church.

Joe B said...

It is so like God to leave out the details, and it is so like man to hide himself in the fig leaves.

I would not hesitiate to say "dying", though I grieve in the hope that, when this dry kernel has fallen to the ground and succumbed to the elements, new life will emerge. I would not hesitate to say "radical change", because the dry tree I see is dying from the roots up, and I see the "axe already laid at the root of the trees" as John the Baptist saw in his day.

Obviously not every church is dead, nor is every church-rat. But I have seen so many church leaders kidding themselves for so many years. Like Norman Bates proppin' up Momma in her chair. Just don't fall over Momma, sit tall and proud in your best dress.

I have longed to see a reemergence of New Testament faith in my lifetime, and that is what you have described. To me it seems more likely to emerge from among the lost and lawless than from among the saved and seduced.

I welcome it in any case. Come, thy kingdom. As in the heaven, so on the earth!

What do you say, ye hoard of Java J enthusiasts?

Jason said...

There's something I don't like about your post, and I'm having trouble putting my finger on it, but let me try.

Let me start by saying that I 1000% agree that community is where it's at. Also, we aren't a Christian nation anymore, and churches have done a poor job of preaching truth. Finally, if we really loved the way we're supposed to, clearly more lives would be changed.

My issue is with the distress of the functionality of the church. In my opinion, most churches aren't functional enough. 2000 years ago, all you had was community. Everyone knew everyone around, because walking 10 miles to church wasn't a likely happenstance. Today, driving 30 miles is nothing for some. While part of that drive may be for poor reasons such as to get to a huge church to hide in, and not get involved, it still happens. In a world (or country at least) with movies on demand, 200 TV channels, 50,000 songs on your iPod, and easy travel (despite the gas prices), the church needs to run like a well oiled machine, and have the community you mention. "Be in the world, but not of the world." If I'm a visitor, and I hear buzzing in the sound, ushers who don't know what they're doing, and nobody greets me at the door, what am I going to think about what these people believe? Sure, Christ can overcome these barriers, but He's given us talents and abilities to remove as many impediments to the Gospel as we can.

Clearly function without love is useless, and if I had to make a choice, I'd rather see love over function. However, I think function is vital as well.

scott said...

Hey Jason! St Louey Jason W, possibly?

Maybe I'm not defining "functional" enough to explain my disdain with it. We've gone deeper with it here and here and here and probably a few other places, but that probably doesn't explain it well either. You wrote the church needs to run like a well oiled machine, but everything you wrote about was a Sunday morning function. The sound system. The greeters. I see nothing wrong with having a worship service in a lovely building for the people of God to come together, but that's not the primary thing I envision when I see the bride of Christ. Plus, I don't envision a Sunday morning church service as the primary means of evangelizing to a lost community.

I agree that love is better than function, and I suppose function has its place. But I'd also say that I'd rather see relation over function. The functions of church sometimes get so big that we have no room for the love-community I'm talking about.

Macca said...

The problem, often enough, is that we've traded function for unction. And without the unction (a sense of God's touch on the thing, empowering man's puny efforts), you can't have community. Function isn't bad, but when you worship at the altar of function, the church becomes a grotesque monument on the plains of Shinar.

Big Doofus said...

Now would be a good time for me to quote Schoolhouse Rock:

"Conjunction Junction
What's your function?"


Now, I'm not sure where to go with regards to Joe's comments. Honestly, it seems like whatever the heck I say you immediately jump on it. Am I imagining things?

The church is not a creation of man. Man is in it and we may screw it up, but we are (i.e the church is) the bride of Christ. Even in all of its screw-upidness, it is still a creation of God and not man. It will not die. The only thing "radical" about the church acting the way it's supposed to is that it will go against the grain of the world. It will NOT be radical when compared to the church of the NT.

So, I was just agreeing with Scott and pointing out that what we REALLY need to do is flesh out what is written about the church in the NT.

Big Doofus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Doofus said...

I deleted my previous comment (thanks for the wise advice, Scott--I wasn't thinking about that) but still wanted to preserve some of it.

You guys are wise to long for community in the church. Look up the phrase, "one another" and see how often it's used to address the church in the NT. That speaks volumes.

So, this is not a "radical" idea in that sense.

Joe B said...

A wry paraphrase of 1 Cor 14:23-25:

So if he whole church comes together and some outsider comes in, and the PA is buzzing, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if an unbeliever comes in when everyone is handshaking at the correct door, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God saying "God is truly among you!"

Where are the emoticons when you need them?

I just cannot imagine the apostles sitting around a table discussing atmospherics. It seems we are living in an age of very low expectations.

Joe B said...

Big D, I'm not cryong out against you. That's my John the Baptist routine for th church at large. All I did was reemphasize the points you deemphasized. It's not personal in the least. I did not associate you with the fruitless tree or the saved-n-seduced or anything. I was just amen-ing Scott and ratcheting it up. I think the church is more wayward than you do. I know I'm the lunatic fringe, so relax.

You're a bright spot, not a blemish at God's table. You're my favorite java swiller of them all!I love the Doof-bomb more than life itself.

more Love!

Big Doofus said...

Thanks, Joe.

Let me just say that we may THINK our particular age is bad, but I think the same opinion existed in every generation before ours. I think that as our civilization continues to spiral down the crapper, the church will actually rise up and stand against it. It may look a lot different than it does now. We'll just have to wait and see.

scott said...

I think the main thing is that it may look a lot different than it does now. I think it'll have to. That's what I expect and anticipate.

I need to add Life Together to my reading list.

Joe B said...

Why don't you go ahead and type it out here on this blog? Be sure and use quotation marks, and cite your source.

Joe B said...

We should all note that Scott put "church" in quotes, and we should understand the distinction between the institutions men build in honor of God, and the body of Christ, the holy temple God builds out of his "living stones."

Who cares if our generation of "church" is better or worse than some past generation of "church." When values get wayward, we should call it out and challenge it. Not later, now.

Consumerism and ambition are accepted and often just assumed to be normal. The truth is in the numbers. Look at your church budget. Except for missions and a few odd coins, it all goes to feed the machine. Then we're surprised when people fight over who gets to run the machine.

Jesus certainly did. The Sadducees were entrenched in their temple, and the Pharisees in their doctrine. Then Jesus came to raise up a People, alive in his spirit.

Gee, do we even have a department for that?