church fatigue, part 2
Last week’s post, in which I confessed my boredom with attending church services, hit a nerve.
People re-posted it on their Facebook pages, linked to it on Twitter, and left dozens of comments expressing both anger and agreement with my thoughts. A few, including Skye Jethani, even wrote blog posts of their own in response.
Every blogger, if she’s honest, loves finding a topic that generates discussion (and page views). But I’m sad it was this one, because it means many of you share my “church fatigue.”
There was the anonymous pastor who confessed his own boredom with the services he himself plans and leads, a 70-something Christian who admits to being bored in church for most of his life, and a 40-something who’s resigned himself to it but wonders why it’s so hard to have this discussion and why his church’s answer is to volunteer more.
I wish these readers, and the many others who shared their stories, had said my perspective was incomprehensible. Unfortunately, the numbers who resonated with my confession point to some larger problems in the way we “do church.”
Here are my thoughts after a week:
—Skye nailed it with his observation that we are longing for “the transcendent” in our worship. “This is likely what’s behind, in part, the movement of many evangelicals toward high-church traditions and liturgy,” he writes. “They’re hungry for something beyond culturally-familiar or Christianized versions of pop trends.”
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard leaders proclaim the need for church to be “relevant” to our culture. They mean well, but relevance is not to be found in a music style or a sermon series playing off the name of a popular TV show. It comes from Jesus, the Jesus who hung out with broken people, the Teacher who modeled a new way to live in relationship with God, the Redeemer who lived among us and still meets us at the Communion table. Jesus is never irrelevant, never boring. Why is our worship?
—I don’t think our preachers and worship leaders are responsible for me having that transcendent experience every week. For one thing, we all define that differently. Recently I’ve experienced God by listening to music and watching a purple sunset, by crying with a dear friend who lost her husband to a heart attack, by reading and thinking about good books, and by exchanging ideas with perceptive mentors. Other people will have very different lists and no one weekly experience is going to speak to each of us equally. (Nor is the emotional impact of that experience the correct measurement.) Seeing a worship leader as responsible for my relationship with God ignores biblical teaching and guarantees these pastors will feel a burden to, as one commenter put it, get it right at the front of the room. “I know I carry that burden,” he said. “And it’s wearing me out.”
—That being said, if going to church matters, then it matters what we do, and someone has to lead it. But must that look the way it does?
I like what Jeremy said in response to Skye’s blog:
“….many passages in the Epistles make me wonder if the traditional American church organization really is (or contains) a Biblical church.
I Corinthians 14 speaks to it most directly. “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. … Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.”
We pride ourselves on restoring New Testament Christianity, but I’ve never been to a service like this. Why not?
—Have we simply over-elevated the importance of one weekly service (and our expectations of it)? Dan Kimball’s books remind us we’ve made weekly worship the entrance point for seekers and the “if you do nothing else, do this” baseline of our faith.
According to Alan Hirsch and Tim Stevens, that’s only effective for a shrinking minority. Instead, what if consistent participation in service to others and personal worship were the true indicators of a person’s Christianity, and corporate worship was less about the seeker and more about equipping the disciple to live this sacrificial lifestyle?
Of course, that would require a congregation full of growing Christians, all serving and praying and forgiving and submitting and leading from their gifts. That’s messy and difficult. It’s hard to manage and requires many, many leaders each discipling a handful of others over time. It’s no wonder we’ve defaulted to a Sunday routine. But if God intended the church to be more than this, it’s also no wonder we’re bored.
I don’t think I get to complain about something if I’m not willing to be part of the solution. But I’m still not sure what that means. How do you think weekly church needs to change? Is going micro the solution? What can we do individually to make the corporate experience more meaningful, for us and the others who attend?