I think I'll write about something to do with church this time, I know I never do this so bear with me as I try...
As a result of a few significant conversations with different people in recent weeks I thought it would be good to get out some thoughts that have been rolling around in my mind for a while now so that I don't forget them and so they don't disappear. This past year has been quite a transition for me, out of a pastoral position where I thought I would be for at least another 5 years, out of being a super duper fat kid to just being a regular fat kid now, out of some pretty serious emotional and spiritual issues, into a masters degree (which has been going surprisingly well), into a relationship with a pretty incredible lady, and into some deep thoughts upon the state of christianity in my part of the world.
There's probably more to say about the transition of the last year, but I'll leave it at that for now, it's a lot of transition and a lot of unexpected experiences. I've had the opportunity to be a part a few different churches in my lifetime, two of which have employed me on varying levels. These two particular churches are essentially polar opposites in many ways and when I think about either one I get that "grass is always greener" feeling. One is a fairly substantial size and runs based on a business model and the other is slightly less substantial in size and operates in a smaller community where the "business" style of church just wouldn't fly. One has a book of policies and the other has pot lucks, one has strategic 1, 3 and 5 year Plans and the other plans ahead almost on month by month basis. They are clearly polar opposites in how they operate, it just causes me to think. It's interesting how different bodies can thrive in different environments. While my personal experience is thus far limited to a couple specific churches, it seems to me from books that I read, people I talk to and things that I hear that this could be said about pretty much all churches all over the place, they're different and they "cater" to a different type of crowd.
I've been finding myself asking a lot of questions about the way "we" operate as christians in churches. Some questions are as simple as "why?" and others are a little more complex as they seek to discover motive and purpose behind certain things. A friend of mind said the other day that the purpose for the general "sunday morning service" is simply to get people in the seats and stick an offering basket in front of them so they'll give. Harsh? maybe, but unfortunately it's all too often more true than not.
Perhaps one who might read the lengthy blogs of my recent history would find me to be a cynic, or bitter, I do not desire to be that or to come across that way, it's not bitterness that drives me it's a disconnect from what is and what perhaps should be. Clearly I'm not perfect in my assumptions or ideas, in fact I will venture to say that I'm dead wrong in some of my thoughts and feelings toward the "church" in general and even in some of my theology, but that is something that is true of us all regardless of whether we would like to think so or not.
That being said, I do believe there is at least some merit to what I'm saying.
I've written before of asking questions of the existing structure of church, questioning the integrity of some organizations and leaders and ultimately the true motivation behind the modern day "church". Is it really to spread the "good news?" (I know I use "quotations" a lot).
This leads me to my next question...what exactly is the message that is getting across to those we say we want to "reach"? Is it really the love of Jesus and the power of salvation found only in him? or is it something else entirely?
I caught myself wondering/thinking the other day how much christians have contributed to the culture of disbelief (I don't like the word "unbelief" because it makes those who don't prescribe to Christ sound like less human or something). Some might be offended that a person would even bring up such a blasphemous idea (or what some might consider to be so), but I think it's a legitimate question. The very first CD I ever owned, before I even had a CD player to be able to listen to it, was Jesus Freak by DC Talk which I won in grade 7 for burping the alphabet in one continuous belch, impressive I know. On that album, as a part of one of the tracks they had a quote from someone, I don't know who because the album cover is not in front of me but here's how it goes: "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." Apparently that was Brennan Manning who said it, but i just looked it up to find that out.
Anyway, I'm sure many have heard it, and many might even agree with it, but I think I would take it to another level. I would venture to say that beyond denying Christ by our lifestyles, there is a certain distaste for the "christian empire" that seems to be continually being built. It's almost as if power, money, fame and success is being sought by those who are "leading" instead of humility, generosity, service, and other such things that may go along with it. I wrote a paper for one of my classes this year on the affect of the evangelical church on North American culture, and the reciprocation therein. What I discovered was somewhat alarming but not really at the same time. People who were turned off by the success driven nature of many from the "boomer" generation who made a profession out of their faith. Perhaps this kind of thing causes people not to necessarily become atheists, but more agnostic or even simply anti-christian in their beliefs because they don't want to become like what they've seen "christians" being.
That's a rant that I didn't intend to delve into but I'm alright with it.
The stuff that's really on my mind has more to do with church reflecting the nature of Jesus Christ instead of broken humanity. I know there will always be an element of brokenness because we are not perfect and we cannot therefore represent the perfection that is Jesus' love. We can however back away from striving to achieve success in the 'evangelical empire' and seek to reflect the love of Christ in what we do and say. The question i am asking these days is more like "what if" instead of the "why". What if there was a community of believers who existed on purpose without a building in which to meet? What if the leader didn't rely on the congregation for a pay check (though there's nothing wrong with doing so, it's biblical, it's all good)? What if they didn't meet every sunday to "worship" like you see with regular churches? What if teaching came through e-mail or blog or a video feed online? What if the weekly "service" was actually serving somewhere in the community? What if the fellowship of believers happened on a daily basis through relationships and "small group" type settings in people's homes? What if the focus of the community was discipleship (including biblical teaching, prayer, worship, etc.)? What if a group of people abandoned the traditional form of "church" and sought to be a Christ-like community? What if people could be the church without having a "church"?
These aren't questions that seek to destroy what currently exists as church communities or to defame them, instead they seek to discover what a fellowship of believers is and should look like that may not include all of the elements found in what we currently know as church. I'm sure communities like this exist already, and probably even well known ones, but this is where my mind is at these days.
I do not want to be the kind of person who tries to deconstruct or tear down the thoughts or ideas or practices of others, rather I want to be the kind of person who honestly seeks truth and if some people or ideas are found to be a little or a lot off base, that is really not my concern. Truth is what I seek, Christ is who I seek.