Monday, September 10, 2012

Club or Community of Faith?

A good friend and I were conferring over his cup of coffee and my mug of tea, pondering the current condition of the Church of Jesus Christ.

To make a long conversation short, the consensus was that, at least in terms of the Church evident in churches and congregations of which we have personal knowledge, there is a real problem: Christians seem to gather in clusters that look much more like clubs than churches.

This is to say that Christians these days tend to assemble around common interests and tastes. They look for a church where most everyone looks like they do. Some would prefer everyone to be registered in the same political party.

There are even those who select their church on the basis of whether their company higher-ups belong. They look for standing and status.

When it comes to church programs, they want the best care for their kids, a good social group for their age range, and someone to visit their elderly friends and relatives.

Worship, for these folks, should be, above all, entertaining. When the music is super, especially the children’s music, they will applaud. The prayers will hold up before the Almighty the needs of everyone in the room. And the sermon will at all times be short and sweetened with good humor. Worship was to be designed to make them feel good so they could go home happy.

Of course, who is pastor is critical. She or he must meet all criteria of every person, offend no one ever, especially not in a sermon, and be ready day or night to respond to any need. In short, as a friend of mine once said, “The pastor is really supposed to be a spiritual concierge.”

Okay, that’s an overstatement. Admittedly this does not apply to every congregation, even if it does come frighteningly close in some. Sure, there are in every local church at least a few who know better and are looking for a very different situation.

My friend and I remembered thankfully those people we’ve known who filled the bill. For them, the church was not a like-minded club, but a diverse community of faith. They did not seek recognition for their piety or purity, but were offering themselves with humility. They wanted education, faith-formation for themselves as well as their children—not just babysitting or socializing—and they’d visit anybody who was lonely.

These are the people who’d come to worship to receive the support of the community so they could be good Christians when they left. They’d seek forgiveness, renewal and refreshment for their souls. They’d be inspired and stirred in their hearts by the prayers music elicits for them, and they want to be challenged by the word proclaimed, and fed at the Lord’s Table.

In fact, worship has a great deal to do with whether someone sees their congregation as a club or a community of faith.

Some examples:

I was in a room with members of a congregation that had branded itself as “nondenominational, evangelical Christian church,” and the conversation was about worship. When I asked about their prayer of confession, I was told that they did not have one—and did not need it. They were secure in their salvation. Don’t we all need confession as the antidote to taking God’s grace for granted?

I visited a service in a congregation where the “prayers of the people” consisted almost entirely of petitions on behalf of people who were members or friends of members—almost nothing prayed about the ailments of the world and society around us. Prayers are the down-payment on actions, commitments to do something to alleviate the situation we pray for. We might reasonably assume we’d help friends and relatives who need it, but how about the poor and homeless and outcast and oppressed?

The Lord’s Supper is so often done with such efficiency that it seems everyone is in a rush to get out of the building. “Perfunctory” is the word that fits. Yet the Lord’s Table is the world’s table, and sharing the meal Christ set for us commits us to sharing what we have with those who have nothing to share. It is, or could be, a powerful experience.

Music, far from simple entertainment, has the capability to touch us at our depths. Music accompanies our prayers, it carries the liturgy, so that faith sings in our souls.

We come together to serve God in worship on Sundays, and go forth to worship God by our service to others the rest of the time. The Christian congregation is not a club—it is a community on a mission with Christ.

Do you have a prayer of confession in your Sunday service? What evidence do you see of “clubbishness” in your worship? What do you see that points to serving God in the world?

1 comment:

  1. I notice the "clubbishness" in our church in the informal language used by one or two of our pastors that indicates to me we are involved in a social gathering rather than worship. For example, a sermon recently was advertised by identifying the Bible character at the center of the sermon to have had a "bum rap." I sometimes feel as if we just as well move to the local pub and converse over drinks and nachos.


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