Posted by: sailingspirit | May 12, 2011

I thought this was a Church, not a Country Club

This has been on my mind for some time.  In fact, I was just writing a sermon about it
recently when the final “a-ha!” piece fell into place (thank You, Spirit!).  I’ve captured here the majority of a conversation about the topic.

I really did not expect to see this, but life is stranger than fiction: I have witnessed in short succession social pressure to dress down for Resurrection Sunday at church but to dress up for dinner at the Country Club.  (!)  Interestingly enough, the men wore khakis and polo shirts to both.  Following what I had recently written about the church membership digression, this was just too much.  At this particular church, an article was recently featured in its newspaper about its golf pro member, and the men’s golf retreat is being advertised as well.  *sigh*  The only difference between this church and a country club seems to be the distance to the first tee.

Maybe this shouldn’t surprise me so.

After so many, many generations changing little, the 20th century Church suddenly found itself starkly “outdated” in a racingly modern world.  In the attempt to salvage plummeting attendance, by becoming more relevant and relatable to the people, the Church errantly chose to become more like the world to appeal to the worldly people; it imitated what was successful in the secular marketplace.  It is down this path we have come to our modern buildings that look more like secular conference rooms, theaters, sports arenas, etc. than places specifically for worship of a Sovereign God.  I’ve attended at least half a dozen churches since moving here last fall, and I think perhaps only 1 of them had a crucifix, icon, or any other symbol/painting/visual indication that the place was for Christian worship.  No altars, no candles, no stations of the cross, sometimes NO BIBLES!  Nowhere to kneel and no way of knowing how to direct one’s attention…except maybe at the strobe lights.  In some places, a blindfolded person kidnapped and released inside would have no way of knowing it was a church unless he or she was told so.  Worse, we put our secular-looking and secular-sounding praise bands up on a raised, fully-equipped stage, making them the only thing we have to look at, and somehow expect we will maintain perfect mindfulness and focus on God???  That’s insane!  It’s not possible.  The human senso-cognitive system doesn’t work like that.  Any psychologist, human factors designer or elementary school teacher could tell you that.  I mean really, if there was ever a good time for an Homeric “DOH!” this would be it.

Personally, I have become so hungry for a sense of the sacred, the Holy, in combination with the relational and tangible yet I can’t seem to find it anywhere.  It’s either the blank, lifeless, pauper drywall canvas of the protestant side of the family or the gothic and gaudy indiscriminate grandeur of the catholic side of the family.  Are we sure we’re related?  I have witnessed many people spend more money decorating their own homes than their churches, and when they do donate to the church, they give away the old, leftover stuff.  Not the new, nicer stuff.  God is definitely NOT getting the first fruits, but rather the bottom of the barrel.

This stands in stark contrast to Solomon’s ancient Temple, the Medieval Cathedrals, and modern-day mosques all over the world for which no cost was too high and no details were spared.  They weren’t built this way because they had huge budgets; they were built this way because the worshippers desired to do so, and from that desire came the budgets.  If it took 100 years, so be it!  But it would be done well.  A book on European cathedrals tells of a man, a woodworker, who was carving a joint in the ceiling beams.  He spent a month carving delicate flowers and other shapes into the beam.  A supervisor came by and asked why he bothered for a joint that would be covered up in a later phase of ceiling completion anyway–no one would ever see it.  The carver replied, “God will see it.  He works meticulously and perfectly for the inner workings of our bodies, trees, and all things we never see.  That doesn’t make them any less important to Him.”  This is the attitude Christians have long lost.  I have yet to see, or see photos of, a Mosque that is not every inch decorated in carvings, paintings, weavings, or other astounding beauty.  I would much rather worship in a place that makes me think Wow! of God.  Not a place where new member tours talk about how many doors and lightbulbs it took to build the place.  Who the hell cares?  So, what we see in our architectural/design choices is that when there was a fork in the road, the Church chose to conform to this world, and the Mosque did not.  The Mosque figured out a way to make their teachings relatable, without compromising the integrity and holiness of the space.  We could learn from this.

In regards to the programming part, much of it stems from that same attempt to attract attendees from the marketplace.  To look more “relevant.”  Many are good at maintaining focus and being a more holy alternative to the secular, but many are not.  Good leadership is required to make that transition, otherwise it’s the same stuff in a different building.  Mindsets have to be changed, and strongholds brought down.  Most volunteers are not given training in this type of shepherding, they’re just brought on board because they’re willing to do it for free.  Once again, compromising quality by putting cost first.

These issues can be understood better and remedied more, I believe, by addressing the worship issue.  Whatever we may do to get people in the door, including using secular business/marketing strategies, fun programs, etc. we must have a quality product or they won’t be loyal customers.  If our teaching, preaching, and worship are the weakest parts, we will not be giving them what they need to deal with real-life issues.  They seek the Church for help, not entertainment, and when they get no help, they turn to other things.  (That’s why the 30-somethings are virtually absent from the churches right now–they believe that God/Church is nice, but not helpful.  They don’t want a handshake, they want help.  When they don’t get it, they go to alcohol, drugs, sex, suicide, witchcraft, etc.)  If they got help, healing, and answers they would keep coming back to a wobbly toolshed.  So while our “visitors” might have had a nice time with friendly people all those Sundays, clearly they did not get what they considered helpful for life while sitting in service.  They did get what they needed when they went to a place that skipped the fluff and got to the point.

The Joy of Painting
Image via Wikipedia

Thus, I will too: my “aha” moment this week was that the Church is preventing us from having an authentic, personal, worship experience with God because it discriminates so drastically against most of its attendants and the gifts God gave each of them!  We are told, implicitly and explicitly, that unless we sing or play an instrument really well, we cannot lead worship.  Nor are we allowed to worship any other way, such as by dancing or painting or reading poetry.  For some unknown reason, all these other modes of expression are deemed unfit for a God who selected these talents for each of us intentionally.  Why?  Says who?  The arts were not created by man, for entertainment purposes.  The arts were created–by the Creator–for personal expression, expression of the deepest parts of ourselves to Him in particular, as part of the relationship He desires to have with each of us.  He desires our hearts, in whatever way we can offer our hearts to Him.  So if you’re Bob Ross and you show your gratitude to God by painting happy little trees and squirrels, by golly paint away!  And God will love every stroke of it like a mother puts a child’s art on the refrigerator.  If you are gifted to tap dance, then leap to the rhythm God put in your heart, and shake those jazz hands until God turns His face toward you.  Because we were created to bring Him joy.  Preachers telling us we each have God-given gifts but then telling us we can’t apply them in the church is a slap in the face to us and God!  I for one am tired of being pimped out by the Church–told to go out into the world and apply my talents there to make money, then bring it back to the Church so I can do what they like or simply sit silently and watch.  Got woodworking skills?  Nevermind–we have contractors for that.  Just give us your money.  Got cleaning skills?  Nevermind–we have hired people for that.  Just give us your money.   But if you want to shake hands as people come in, you can volunteer for that!  Mmmmm.  That’s not five-fold ministry gifts, that’s five-fingered ministry.  And if you won’t do what they want, then you’re labeled as “not a true servant.”

But they think it’s quaint if I wear the uber-wrinkled khakis I just pulled off the pile on the floor, because “God loves us just as we are.”

The bottom line, then:  The Church isn’t drawing people in, to stay, because it’s not leading the world it’s following it; it’s advertising a product it doesn’t deliver; and it’s wedging itself between the people and God.  This grieves me greatly.

(As does the loss of Bob Ross, who delighted me greatly and inspired me to love painting even though I was awful at it.  Perhaps if I had been old enough to learn from him, it would have gone better.  I will always remember the “happy little trees” that I thought were so perfect for his bird-nest hair.)

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Responses

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. Modern worship practices leave me cold. They are too entertainment oriented, or they simply lack solemn spiritual relevance.

    Originally, the church met in small groups at members’ homes according to the NT. They ate a meal together after the Lord’s Supper, and listened to a letter or gospel reading. They didn’t have any of this grandness or emotional binges that characterize modern worship. They met as friends and family in small close-knit groups. We should return to such practice.

    I love Bob Ross. I spent every Saturday of my teenage years listening to his calm voice and gentle message. I especially loved the rare Joy of painting marathon.


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