* i wrote this last month & never got around to posting it. i’ve recently been thinking about it even more, how awesome it would be if we had more help planting new trees. but it requires people to bravely give up the old and begin actively participating in creating the new.
* * * * *
“one hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. the first requisite is life, always.“
– a.w. tozer
sometimes when i am in conversations with people about church i can go a little nutty. i am learning self-restraint. i am learning to listen and not put in my two cents. i am learning to respect that church stuff is so deeply embedded culturally that often we can’t see the weirdness of what we are even saying.
sometimes i hear accounts or stories about church experiences, and they often include these general strains of thoughts:
i don’t really like that my church is so big and no one knows me and i don’t have any friends there, but there’s nowhere else to go so i guess i just have to live with it.
my church has a policy that the pastors will never email or return any phone calls so i don’t expect a response to my question anyway.
i know that pastor mistreats people right and left but he is a really good speaker.
when i asked for a little extra support during a hard time i couldn’t even get an appointment.
i know women aren’t really valued, but at least they get to do more things than a lot of other churches allow.
my kids need something, so i just go for them.
i am excited about this dream or that idea or to have a place to use my gifts but no one at my church really cares about it.
the saddest part for me is that one of the reasons the wheels keep spinning around on weird and unhealthy systems is that people just keep participating in them, giving their money and time, thinking there aren’t other options. and it’s true–there aren’t a lot of great alternatives when we’ve become so accustomed to certain comforts!
it is hard to step out of what we know into something new when the experience of church as usual is engrained in us “this is what we do, this is what church is like, this is what i can expect.” or, what we’re getting at church is enough of a benefit to keep going, even when somewhere down deep it doesn’t feel quite right.
i feel clear that these examples are not how Jesus-infused community is supposed to function. if we are going somewhere where no one knows us, we can’t get any help when we are hurting, and there is no space to explore what we might have to offer in terms of giftedness & passion, then something is seriously off.
these simple elements shouldn’t seem like a long-shot when it comes to what we would hope for out of christian community. but alas, there is a difference between cultivating communities & building churches. and there is a difference between going to church & being part of the church. most of all, there’s a difference between settling for crumbs and eating a good meal at the table.
when we think that crumbs is what we deserve, that’s what we’ll eat.
when we think there’s probably no other food available, we’d rather sit & be undernourished than look for something more satisfying.
our stomachs have become accustomed to something far different than the kind of community we read about in the Bible and dream about in our hearts.
church stuff is tricky. every church can’t be all things to all people. churches are made up of human beings and we are far from perfect. and church hopping with a “consumer” mindset doesn’t help, either.
however, the big idea of the gathered body of Christ wasn’t about going through the motions, remaining unnoticed, uncared for, unnurtured, and unempowered.
systems will never change until we stop contributing to the madness.
there are options other than continuing to roll with the way things are. they just might be a little scarier!
but wasn’t that the way living out the ways of Jesus were supposed to be?
i believe the world would be a much better place if those who fundamentally know something is wrong with the systems they are in stopped using that hour and a half every week sitting in a church service and focused their energy in a more productive others-centered direction. we could spend that time hanging out with someone else who’s lonely, inviting a neighbor over for dinner, gathering with friends to share life & laughter together, volunteering at a ministry or organization in desperate need of more hands & help, or checking out some other church expressions that might feel foreign but could open up new possibilities.
there are so many other possibilities for “church”!
also, i respect there are many who are fine in these systems and are thriving & happy there. this isn’t about them. i am talking about those of us who know something’s wrong, that it feels cruddy, that it’s not-right-somehow, but just keep going…and going..and going…anyway.
i love the church. it’s meant for so much more than it often is. it is supposed to bring life, not loneliness, complacency, and disconnectedness.
we can be the change we want to see.
we can stop “spending money on food that does not give us strength and paying for food that does us no good” (isaiah 55:2).
i believe God’s got some really tasty food for us! but first we have to quit settling for crumbs, scoot away from the table, and open ourselves up to new ways to live out our faith.