Church is Boring. Relationships Aren’t. This is NOT Part II

Not Part II, but related.

On Tuesday nights we host a small group of college-age friends.  Nothing formal.  We eat.  We swim.  We talk.  We eat again.  We watch TV…

Tonight (6/29/10) a visitor showed up.  Although he was raised in the church he was new to most of us.  Any how, I met him and we chatted about this and that for a bit.  I asked some questions and even offered unsolicited advice regarding some of his answers.

To my surprise, later in the evening  he asked me for a few minutes of my time.  In private.   So,  a couple of  hours after finishing part one, but before starting part two,  we took a walk.  He confessed.  Specifically.  Dark forces rule his life.  He doesn’t want this to be true, but dark forces rule his life. 

He also told me he no longer goes to church.  He hates going.  He’s not interested in what his bell ringer is saying.  It doesn’t make sense or apply to his real life. It’s not helping him beat back the dark forces warring against his soul.  So,  he stays home.  He watches football instead.  That’s what he said.  He summed it all up by voluntarily telling me church was boring.  (Hmmm?  Me thinks. Wasn’t I posting on this very topic scant hours ago?  What a strange coincidence!)

When confronted with that sort of brutal honesty bell ringers are sometimes quick to reveal the chip perched on their shoulders.  If you’re bored it’s your own fault.  You should know by now that church isn’t about you.  You only get out what you put inThe focus isn’t on you. That’s part of the problem.  The focus HAS been on us.

By drawing our attention to gaze upon every sorry detail of the joke of a church that no longer exists the vision of a generation has been trained to focus downward.  By appealing to our wants in worship the vision of believers has been trained to focus upon their personal opinions and individual desires.  The end result?  A generation of spiritual consumers was created.  And as a spiritual consumer my new friend has every right to tell me he doesn’t like the product.

So, we walked and talked.    He likes to talk.  He likes it when somebody is listening.  He wants somebody to help him.  If he were going to church  it’s likely nobody would know these things.  We don’t fellowship much in church.  We listen to bell ringers.  But he doesn’t go to church.  He used to though.

I interrupted him with a question.    Would you go to church if it was like this?  Like what?  Just talking.  But not just talking.  Talking like we are right now.  He said yes.

There are many yeses left to be asked.

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Church is Boring. Relationships Aren’t. Part I

Took a class at Oklahoma Christian this past Spring.  Contemporary Culture.  Dr. Dudley Chancey.  Great class.  Great teacher.  Made me think.   I’m working out those thoughts here.  Brothers and sisters, we are in the midst of an escalating crisis.  From east to west, and north to south our young people are drifting away in alarming numbers.  Why?   In spite of a new understanding of the Holy Spirit, new worship styles, and new wine skins an increasing number of our marriages are dissolving in the pews while we sit helplessly by.  Why?   Many of our congregations are going out of business because they are failing to reach the lost and keep the saved.  Why?  The following are some of the conclusions I think I’ve reached as I seek to answer the whys for myself. Love to the ten or twelve who continue to drop by.  Ha!

In my particular fellowship the bells of change have been ringing for some time.   They ring because our fellowship is not growing.  In fact, those who know say we’re shrinking.  Not only are we failing to attract new business, but old business is walking out the door.   So the bells ring.

We suffer no shortage of bell ringers either.  There are some who frequently travel between the major bell towers of our fellowship where they ring the bells for all they’re worth.  The skill of these particular bell ringers is such the tone of their gongs is pleasing.  Somehow the vibrations tickle our funny bones.  And who doesn’t like to laugh?  However, our laughter is ironic because it comes at our own expense. As it turns out- the joke’s on us.  And sadly, the final cost of all these funnies may be much higher than any of us imagined.  See, the message of those bells tell us how awful we’ve been.  Awful as in… too dense to “get” the Spirit, too judgmental to welcome the sinner, too conservative to properly worship the King… to name a few awfuls.

No man has ever won the heart of his bride by telling her she’s ugly.  Nor do people find the power to change by being told how awful they are.  But these bell ringers seem to think they can make a brighter future for the bride of Christ by telling her how ugly and awful she was, or continues to be.  How sad.  And speaking pragmatically, is it working?  Has it filled the pews with new business, or kept the old from going elsewhere?

Will these bell-ringers ever quit gonging on about stuff that happened in the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and yesterday?  Apparently not.  And if they’ve been a bell ringer for some years why isn’t it obvious to them that the church of TODAY is the product of THEIR bell ringing?  Unless they figure that out the church seems destined to hear the same old gonging  until these bell ringers retire, are replaced or drop dead.  Meanwhile, in a surprising development,  it appears many of our young people actually heard the din these bell ringers dinned.  Instead of laughing though many of them walked out the door.  Some from Christ.  Some forever.   Doesn’t this seem just as awful as anything from our past that these bell ringers gong on and on about?  Does anyone believe Jesus is laughing?

Other bell ringers have focused their bell ringing on our assemblies.  Apparently re-marketing our brand in a relevant fashion would  attract new customers and dazzle the current ones into staying.  Especially young families.  Especially our teens who are staying away in significant numbers, when the choice is theirs.  If  only we had the freedom to clap, or raise our hands, or sing songs written in this century then we’d be relevant, then we’d grow, then our young would stay.   So this gaggle of bell ringers rang the bell that calls the church to assemble.  A new kind of assembly that is.

To begin with-  being relevant apparently means having longer church services.  The duration of time we sit in pews and face forward- without interacting in a personal way with others-  is what increased.   Somehow this seeker- friendly, extra -long service is supposed to attract seekers who don’t go to church anywhere, AND engage those in the pews who already can’t wait for the service to be over.  Makes perfect sense.  Somewhere.  Not in this universe.  Nonetheless, gong!   And the gongs keep coming!

Two songs then a prayer?  Been mocked out of existence.  Gong!   The order of worship?  It’s now anyone’s guess, except for the professional who was hired to co-ordinate such things.  Gong!   Song books?  Power Point and pretty pictures.  Gong!  Congregational singing?  Sounds better (to God?) when augmented by a team.  Gong!   The  Lord’s Supper?  In the old days we overlooked  it’s significance by merely praying over it.  Today it true significance is obvious because it’s accompanied by a mini-sermon while someone hums in the background and the lights are dimmed Broadway-style.  Gong!  Interestingly,  one sacred cow from our past left to graze unmolested  is that everything about our assemblies still revolves around the local bell ringers bell ringing.  Hmmm?  Maybe that’s a sacred cow that needs to be shot.  Gong!

In many ways the bell ringers who clanged for change in our assembles have had their way.  This isn’t your grandfather’s church.  This church IS a reflection of the ministry and message of these particular bell ringers.  Me? I like some of the changes their bells rang for.  Don’t you?  I like worship leaders and praise teams, for example.   At the same time I also liked it when there was a different song leader every week.  That felt like a priesthood of believers, and not a priesthood.  Anyhow, if you don’t care for any of these changes you won’t get anywhere by ringing your own bell.  Just keep loving.  Be Jesus.  After all, what’s progressive today is tradition tomorrow. When I’m an old man I fully expect the bell ringers of the future to say something like,  the humming and speechifying accompanying the Lord’s Supper puts too much emphasis on the hummer and the speechify-er.  And what’s with this Broadway- like gimmick of dimming the lights?  It does nothing but cheapen the sacrament.  Can’t we just pray? Just swallow your cracker and drink your juice, Craig.

Where’s the new business?  Why are our faithful customers still drifting away?

In part II: Being a church that exists as a reaction to the church of yesteryear will get us nowhere.  In fact, it’s failed.  The mocking, the horror stories, the can you believe how narrow minded we were type of preaching that has rung from our bell towers wasn’t falling on deaf earsOur young heard the peals of laughter loud and clear.  They didn’t like the joke .  So they left.  That  kind of bell ringing is not the work of the Holy Spirit. Or of God.  Or of Jesus. When He is lifted up people are drawn in, not repulsed.  People are now lost because of the other kind of bell ringing.

Being a church with all the bells and whistles doesn’t seem to be working either.  Unless the goal was to remain static, or even shrink.  The freedom to lift our hands in praise (a good one) hasn’t exactly led to the masses knocking down our doors to discover freedom from sin.  And for those who are barely among us in the first place it might be that all we’ve accomplished is to increase the duration of their boredom.

A new generation of bell ringers must rise up to ring the bell  that Jesus forged in His ministry and in His blood.  His bell doesn’t make fun of people, nor does it rely on fads or gimmicks.  I’ve been blessed to have met some in this new generation.  In New Hampshire.  In  West Virginia.  In Arkansas.  In other places.  My young brothers and sisters, please discover this bell for yourself and then ring HIM with all your might.

but, that’s Part II.  Which I’m working on.  After I clean the house.

u- turn

When a driver realizes they should be going the other way they make a u-turn. Problem solved.

Sometimes this analogy is used to simplify the meaning of repentance. In other words, repentance is like making a u-turn with your life. So, when a person repents it’s understood they are turning away from their old life and hell to face a new life and heaven.

Too often we fail to realize that even though we’ve turned our car around we’re still driving the same car.

The only thing that has changed is the direction. Whatever issues our particular vehicle had when we were going one way are the same issues going the other way. The window that won’t crank, the blinker that won’t blink and the muffler that won’t muffle will not be repaired, as if by magic, simply because we corrected our course.

I say this because some believers who thought they were sincere when they repented may later doubt their initial bout of sincerity. They do so because many, many miles after traveling in the right direction they just can’t seem to stop themselves from doing the very thing they know beforehand causes their engine to overheat. Over and over and over and…

On the other hand, it could be they are disappointed with God. Perhaps they believed the brake job would be free or the transmission replaced at no cost to themselves. Instead,  they discover they don’t even qualify for a discount.  Either way, when self-doubts or disappointment become hopelessness the driver may grow disoriented and veer of course. Or make another u-turn.

Those who doubt their intentions, or are disappointed with God aren’t helped at all when they’re harassed by drivers moving in the same direction.  The muscle car riding the bumper of the heap in front communicates impatience.  The driver guns his engine to ask, “What’s taking so long to get that heap of junk fixed?”  The driver of the gleaming sedan casts a sidelong glance as he smoothly purrs past the wreck of a car beside him.  The glance is meant to convey, “I can’t believe you’re still driving THAT!”  Only God knows how many drivers make a tragic u-turn in the wrong direction because the traffic moving towards Him can be brutal.  Of course the devil would know that number too since he now has to prepare a room for someone he thought was going the other way.

I made a u-turn in 1980.  At that time the brakes on my car were squealing.  All these years later they still squeal.  My air conditioner was also broken.  Today, however, it’s been fixed for so long  I can’t remember the last time it didn’t blast ice cold air.  But back to those brakes.  They annoy me.  They embarrass me.  When I stop at a red light I think everybody is staring at me.  Why haven’t I fixed them yet?  Why hasn’t God fixed them for me?  I don’t know.

This is what I do know.  If I turn around now the brakes will only become worse.  They will squeal all the way to hell.  On the other hand, if I continue my journey in the right direction it’s still possible  I’ll  eventually get those squealing brakes repaired.

But even if they squeal all the way to glory I’ve determined I would rather arrive at the place I was always meant to be with squealing brakes than not.

No more u-turns for me.

Fellow straggler,  whatever issues continue to impede your journey I implore you not to turn around.  Even if those issues vex you until the day you die isn’t it better to arrive at the correct destination than the wrong?  At the correct destination we get to trade-in our worthless heaps for a model beyond compare.  At the wrong destination our heaps are impounded and crushed.

To those in muscle cars and shiny sedans: Please know your fellow travelers are better helped by a tow-line rather than a hand-gesture.  Have mercy on us.

When a sinner realizes they should be going the other way they make a u-turn.  Problem solved.