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.

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5 Comments

  1. I think you are right on target!! Thanks Craig

  2. I noticed this on my news feed in facebook. the title of the essay caught my attention. From what I picked up on this is that,we aren’t really giving efforts on making church better. The focus of church is not just the worship, but the things include in it. perhaps get the youth group involved in the adult stuff? or vice versa. We attract attention when we do projects for the community even small mission trips, the church was not meant as a building but for the community. this is scratching tip of iceberg.

  3. Well spoken brother, couldn’t have made the point better myself. Let’s rise up and ring the bell louder and truer. Let’s encourage one another to be more Christ-like as we live for Him, denying ourselves and letting His Spirit reign within. Let’s do what Christ did in His time….turn the world upside down, shocking people with how we respond and behave as we follow our Lord. When the Church starts living and breathing without fear and with complete faith, in all aspects of life and worship….then we will see the results in our communities, our relationships, and in our own congregations. (which I pray will someday abandon the “seating in rows facing forward” during worship and communion.)

    Preach on Brother Brandon! Or should I say, Ring that bell louder!!!

  4. Thanks, Craig. Good words. Significant words. God bless you in your ministry.

    Thank you Ron. Your thoughts are very meaningful to me.


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