I visited a new church recently and was bored out of my mind. The most predominant sensation was stifling oppression. The second was embarrassment, for them.
The song leader apologized for being tired. I wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t said anything. They had no musicians but insisted on singing anyway. The choruses weren’t bad but if I were new to church and hadn’t known them, would have felt even more out of place.
The pastor was a better than average speaker but he said absolutely nothing new and none of it was relevant. There was no practical use for anything he said and there was nothing stimulating in the way it was presented. The only “do” point was attend church and he made the point by criticizing the cyclists he passed on his way to the service. Obviously, they couldn’t cycle without missing church. I guess it never occurred to him that service times are not God breathed and could therefore be changed.
The most interesting thing in the entire message was a joke about a preacher and a taxi driver both of whom went to heaven. The taxi guy was heavily rewarded and the preacher got nothing. The reason? When the preacher spoke people slept. When the taxi guy drove people prayed!” Sadly, that pretty much epitomized the service.
For those who live elsewhere, the largest percentage of taxi drivers in South African are black and known for excessively dangerous driving. So the comment was more of an racist point than a spiritual one.
I don’t wish to sound mean spirited or critical but honestly, there was nothing inviting, fulfilling or helpful in that service and the unfortunate thing is, this church service is representative of many churches today.
As a minister, I have led many church services which probably had the same effect. This experience made me think that a lot of what we do in the name of church and even the terminology we use is missing the point.
For example, when talking about church, words like “attendance,” “worship” and “go” have been misused. They give the wrong impression. Church should never be thought of only as a “place” to go and “attendance” should never be the primary description of your relationship to a church.
For entertainment we attend theaters. It is a place to shut off briefly and let someone else do the thinking, although we don’t usually nap while there.
But church is not a place of entertainment and attending is never an appropriate way to worship God. Sleeping in church is an indication that very little is right.
People who only “go to” or “attend” church are missing the point and churches that encourage this are sending the wrong message. The disciples never attended anything. On the contrary they were constantly moving. They probably walked hundreds of kilometers during their time with Jesus. I’m sure there were no fat followers among the first twelve.
On the very odd occasion when the disciples could sit and listen to Jesus they rarely got His meaning without further diligent work. Church “attendance” for them was more like school with loads of homework requiring careful study and the work was done on the run. They went home very occasionally.
Actually, Jesus focused more on curious unbelievers than the disciples. He often taught in common places where anyone could hear. Even non-disciples didn’t have to go anywhere to attend the meetings of Jesus. He was always making His way to the public. Evangelizing goats was more important to Jesus than protecting and entertaining the sheep. Maybe we are to understand that keeping the sheep busy with evangelism was the best form of protection.
For the disciples, of course, this also meant hard work. Every time Jesus opened His mouth, went anywhere or did anything the disciples were under pressure.
- They were always called upon to serve rather than be served.
- Their infrequent group devotions probably included a hymn but they were likely too tired to clap.
- They learned more by doing, than sitting and listening.
- Their acts of worship were probably expressed while moving from one place to another.
Church for Jesus and the disciples was nothing like the traditional church today. What was conventional for them is unacceptable to us.
On one occasion, Jesus entertained a crowd in Peter’s home. The house was so full there was no room left for anyone to get in by the usual method (the door). In response, one determined group got in by breaking through the roof.
The Bible doesn’t record the reaction of the disciples but I am sure Peter’s wife chirped about the mess once the crowd was gone. When last did you have visitors break through the roof of your chapel? If they did, what would your reaction be?
“Attendance” is not a word we could accurately use to describe any worship experience by the disciples. They were rarely in one spot, they were constantly surrounded by crowds (they had little privacy) and their leader, Jesus, seemed to enjoy putting them under pressure. They couldn’t even take a holiday without being hounded by needy people.
That doesn’t describe what happens today. The clothes we wear to church are more appropriate for a fashion show than ministry and the places we “attend” church are very visible and even accessible but completly uninviting to curious unbelievers.
If your “worship” experience hasn’t been too fulfilling recently maybe it involves too much “attendance” and not enough well focused action. If you need a break, by all means, take a holiday. If you want to make a difference, engage church and make it engaging, don’t attend it.
What do you THINK!AboutIt