December 13, 2012
You may or not be aware of the immense changes that have come about in “church” in the U.S. in the past 30 or 40 years. Many have moved away from a Sunday morning service that a friend of mine calls a “hymn sandwich.” You know, a hymn, some other stuff, and a closing hymn. Because we are a consumer society attracted to the most flashy, the most creative, the biggest show, the loudest music… and because we are a culture full of stimulation on every level… well many in the Church have decided that we need to compete with the world if we are going to reach the world. I have mixed feelings.
Let me begin by stating a bias… and I know as a pastor I am not the least bit objective in all of this BUT… Is the end game for us in the church… seats filled with people on Sunday morning? Is it? Is it loading up the pews so we can pay the bills? Is it programming for every age and every interest? Is it further “worship” of our children? Is it almost professional music? Is it social programs? Is it a well choreographed “worship” service filled with videos, lights, and the latest techy devices? Personally, I think that most of these things are fine in and of themselves… they just aren’t the goal! The thing that we strive for in the Church is worship of the Lord of the Universe and the reality of changed lives because of the presence of Jesus Christ dwelling within us. When we get caught up in the “stuff” of the church we too often lose sight of the reason for our being.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think old dried up worship where we insincerely slog through a few hymns and half heartedly listen to a sermon is any more honoring to God than the most modern worship “shows.” And vice versa I might add. Does it really matter what we do on Sunday morning if our lives are not becoming like Jesus? Does it matter if there are 30 people in church or 3000 if nothing changes? Does it? I know someone is going to say that the likelihood of lives changing is greater based on the number of folks we can bring in the doors. I don’t doubt that’s true… but are lives changed by imitating the world that folks come from? Doesn’t it make more sense to be able to say… “we are the Church of Jesus Christ, leave the world outside of these walls for one hour. Relax, be still, rest, find peace… you are safe and loved here. We are not here to imitate your world… we are here to show you something much greater that is nothing like your world.” Do people come to church to experience much of the same as they do outside of the walls of the sanctuary? Well frankly I don’t know why many of them come, but we have an obligation to show them Jesus, not the world.
Sometimes people (young people in particular) say “church is boring!” My response “no, you’re boring!” If you are able to drag your butt into a sanctuary and come before the God of the Universe and say you’re bored… well there is definitely a problem but I don’t think God is it. There is no doubt that well intentioned pastors (like myself) can stifle the Holy Spirit and we can make an hour on Sunday morning feel like eating shredded wheat with no milk… but the truth is, worship, and Christian faith is not about the Pastor… or, for the most part, the “stuff” of church. It is really about our willingness to be opened to the leading of the Holy Spirit… regardless of our environment. And let me say as forthrightly as I can… EVERYONE OF US IS GUILTY OF NOT PUTTING FORTH OUR BEST IN WORSHIP! This is what God says of worship that looked right on the surface but had the wrong “heart and intentions”:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.
Lest I sound like I am being too critical of “church movements”… I take full responsibility for my inability to teach others about where our priorities should be. When we focus on style of music, what instruments are used, whether “I like” the songs we sing, whether I “agree” with the sermon, if there are “programs” for me… then we show our spiritual immaturity and we reveal our lack of proper teaching. When the conversation about “Church” begins with something other than “how do we come to know Jesus better and how do we lead others in that” then we are starting in the wrong place.
Here is the harsh reality… many local churches that you and I grew up with will cease to exist in the next 20 years or so. Many are walking corpses now and the funeral is just around the corner. And quite honestly no matter that there are those who think there is a revival around every corner… the Church in the entire U.S.A is dying. Why that is is complicated and frankly I don’t think we will fully understand until we are on the other side of our last breath. We at Mt Vernon need to have a serious conversation about this. But I know one thing… I would rather die in the arms of Jesus than die announcing a “blue light special” for those who are looking for the next; “Church of what’s happening now” or die in a church that is already dead. But… that’s just me.
I had a professor in seminary who used to say outrageous things. I once said to him “I don’t know whether you believe what you say or if you are just trying to be provocative.” His reply; “Neither do I.” I sort of like that. I welcome your comments.