Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Smorgasbord or Mono Diet?

If you watch this little you-tube piece, you’ll see a creative little caricature of how the state of the church in our capitalist, consumerist culture has mutated to the point where we who comprise the various ‘members’ of Christ’s body have a myriad of choices at our disposal when deciding where to go to church. Of course, if we don’t like where we are, we’ll go somewhere else, somewhere that more closely resembles the desires of our unique personalities and souls.

What do you make of this? Here are some possible answers:

This sucks! It just proves how selfish we all are. Church, after all, isn’t about having our needs met, it’s about meeting other people’s needs and using our gifts.” That sounds good, but if your children are screaming every Sunday that they don’t want to go to Sunday School because the ‘rooms smell bad’ and you investigate, discovering that the trash cans have rotting fruit in them, and that there are funny stains on the carpet, I wonder if you’ll stay? I especially wonder if you’ll stay if you confront the issue and the people in charge just smile and say, “we’re a friendly church.” If you leave, are you just another consumer? I don’t think so. I think the reality is that we all have our limits, as well we should.

This is great! The ‘competition’ forces church leaders to take their calling seriously. Remember what happened when the church had a monopoly. That period in history was called the dark ages for a reason. I’m glad we live in a time and place where there are choices.” Yes, but if monopolies fed the weaknesses of church leaders, the multiplication of choices no doubt feeds the weaknesses of church attenders. After all, what constitutes a ‘legitimate’ reason for leaving a church? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced that the reasons articulated by people aren’t always the real reasons – though they themselves might not even know the real reasons. But the bottom line is that the multiplication of choices, coupled with the culture of transience that is ours has resulted in a kind of cavalier attitude towards church life.

If it were a marriage (and I understand that it isn’t, but stick with me for a minute), it’s is if we’ve become a culture of partner swapping, whereby we abandon our spouse for the slightest flaw, jumping quickly to another until we find her mole, or extra three pounds of flesh, or piercing laugh at bad jokes. Such a culture of disposability sickens me in human relationships, and deeply saddens me when such a mindset bleeds into the church.

So what is it? Great? Sucking? My sense is that it is what it is. Mindful that I’m not the only person in town who is preaching perhaps makes me a better preacher. But it shouldn’t. Knowing that you can leave one community of faith in order to find one that better ‘meets your needs’ can make you a healthier Christian. And it might. Or it might just reinforce the prevailing ‘throw away’ disposability of our culture that is at the root of so much that is destructive. I just don’t know which it is. That’s why I need prayer, and friends who will tell me the truth, and a commitment that, whatever I do, I will learn how to be in committed relationships – even in a faith community.

Tomorrow: You must be Bourne Again!



At 16/8/07 18:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, well said.

At 17/8/07 15:54, Anonymous Donte said...

This is tough…and convicting. I’ve left several churches the past few years, but if I wouldn’t have done so I would have never found Bethany. It’s very difficult to articulate, but I think most people search for a church that ‘feel right’ and that is why my wife and I decided to stay at Bethany. The church did not meet all of the items on our ‘ideal church checklist’, but it feels right, so here we are. It is the type of church that we are not ashamed to invite friends to visit, we agree with the mission and doctrine, and we want to be involved in the community. That means that we will both consume from and provide service to the community of Bethany which will hopefully lead to personal growth and a more biblical community. I know that this is a reciprocal relationship (and you could argue that it’s not biblical), but at least for now I am okay with that!

At 19/8/07 14:39, Anonymous b.j. said...

I've certainly encountered and been guilty of the attitudes you mention, Richard. Do you think the same trend is found within a specific church? I have found myself attempting to arrive late to worship services to avoid a part of the service I don't care for. Is this tendency the same thing?

At 20/8/07 09:32, Anonymous Kristi said...

OK- I couldn't get the You-Tube link to work, but I get the picture (and I think I've seen it before anyway.)
I am in agreement that this is not a one-answer-fits-all kind of issue. As one who has both "shopped" for a church that both my husband and I can commit to (no easy task,) and who is at the same time pained by the seemingly silly reasons that churches split into endless denominations, I can understand the rationale in both sides of the spectrum. For my husband and me, we wanted a place where we would be challenged by the teaching and where we wouldn't be forced into listening to fluff every Sunday. Everything is not perfect at Bethany (or anywhere else for that matter) but I feel like this is the kind of community in which I can participate- for me, it's about both being fed/challenged AND being able to use my gifts for the benefit of the body.
No easy answers, but I do think this matter requires every attender (or consumer) to take an honest look inward at one's motivations, and to be open to where the Spirit may be leading.

At 20/8/07 10:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with sticking in some churches (and some marriages) is that the cultural ideal of solid commitment can lead to very real personal and societal damage.

A big glitch with such commitment lies in the perception of the church or marriage as institutions that are due honor because of their inherent authority. In fact, there is only as much real authority, and honor due, as there is truth embodied in the institution.

When fear is winning out over love in the institution, should it be supported?
Should a person stay in an physically or emotionally abusive marriage?
Should parents stay in a church that teaches their children historical sexist cultural norms and the second rate nature of women (abuse in its own right)?

If change is possible, seeking to help make love manifest over fear is certainly worthy work is any setting. But when patterns are intractable, and fear is repeatedly made manifest in action but called 'love'... Jesus made the response clear: shake the dust off and move on.

In these cases, assigning authority to an institution and offering commitment would be absolutely wrong. Our driving need is to seek and embody truth. Lending tacit support to truth's destruction by sticking with 'commitments' is not loving... it is called enabling.


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