Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Church -- A Means to an End

One of my good college friends recently posted on Facebook a status, asking whether church, the Church, or a church is "a means or an end."  There are many congregations across our great land (and probably in other countries, as well) who may say they believe that church, the Church, or their church is vitally important.  Some may even go so far as to practice (even if they don't say) religion in such a way that it goes beyond being dominant in the lives of the congragation to the point of exclusivity and societal irrelevance. 

Let me first really quickly define what I mean by "church, the Church, or a/their church."  When I say "church," I mean the substance of performing church activities in a group setting--corporate worship, instruction, fellowship, communion/eucharist celebrations, and the like.  The Church (capital C) references the global, interdenominational group of believers who follow Jesus as their Savior, Source, Guide, and Redeemer (et al), regardless of affiliation, incorporating all Christ-followers of every color, creed, culture, and continent.  "A church" or "their church" references an individual, local body of believers who gather together (usually to do church as part of the Church). 

There are some individuals we know who have so immersed themselves in their church that they have no time for other non-affiliated friends (who may or may not be Christ-followers themselves), regardless of the occasion or event.  There are also, unfortunately, some congregations who go BEYOND accepting this absurdity to actually ENCOURAGING it.  Any "a church" who schedules activites on an almost nightly basis (or even more often!) has forgotten the purpose of the Church and church.  There are congregations in and near my own city who, for various reasons (size, intentions, etc), monopolize their attendees' time not spent at the job site or in school--and frequently find a way to insert themselves even into educational time--so as to effectively isolate these congregants from society as a whole.  And this is the tragedy:  society desperately needs the Church and ALL of its sane members to stand up, make a difference, and LIVE the Gospel--the Good News of hope, real freedom, redemption, value, etc. 

My Bible tells me that the Church's responsiblity--beyond giving honor and bringing glory to God--is to prepare the believer for ministry.  Not full-time church attendance.  Not every-Christian-is-a-doctoral-theologian-and-needs-to-preach.  Ministry, meaning meeting the needs of the world.  On a spiritual level (demonstrating a relationship with Jesus that changes a person from the inside), on a social level (fighting injustice, poverty, disease, illiteracy, etc.), on an ethical level (providing a moral standard of living that is above reproach, but not "bubble-ishous"), and on an intellectual level (honestly searching for real answers to tough questions, whether they be scientific, metaphysical, or geopolitical in nature). 

Please understand.  I am NOT saying that the Church or a church needs to water down its message or compromise its core beliefs to be relevant.  The problem is that church (doing religion) has become too skewed away from reaching out to make a difference.  It has become more of an aquarium-style safe haven for a country-club membership of people with like interests, who happen to also believe in a God. 

The saddest thing about this post is that some of the people who read it will probably not understand why I am so frustrated, offended, and angered by this travesty.  Others will likely not see their own descriptions in these few paragraphs.  We as Christ-followers need to stop playing at religion and start doing what we are here for--reaching, teaching, and helping others.  (I'll probably blog about this some other time, but we should, as Christ-followers, frequently help others simply to be of service, not as a chance simply to preach to them or an attempt to "save their souls."  How many people of the 5,000 that Jesus fed on the hillside later call for his crucifixion?  Did it matter to Jesus, even though he probably knew they would be faithless?  We'll chew on that for a while, later.)  In the meantime, have you any thoughts on this quandry?


Todd said...

Having had a conversation with you recently that I'm sure preluded this "explosion onto paper (or screen)," I have the unique advantage of knowing some of the things you DIDN'T include on the screen, and thus some insight into some specific examples that weren't included in the final written product. Thus, part of my response MAY be colored by that conversation as well.

One point of contention I have with the post....to quote you....."Any 'a church' who schedules activities on an almost nightly basis (or even more often!) has forgotten the purpose of the Church and church." (and believe me, this isn't just a defense of the "a church" that I now call my "a church")....

First of all, my contention with the statement is the "blanket" nature of it. Had you said, "Any church....(blah blah - all of what you said)....RUNS THE RISK OF confusing their congregation of the purpose of the Church.".....THAT would be a wording I would have no problem with.

But ultimately, as long as the leadership of such a church makes an honest and reasonable attempt to communicate the true purpose of the church to its congregation (which may be done through the pulpit ministry, small group training, evangelism & discipleship groups, and a few hundred other ways not acknowledged here), then the story changes quickly in my opinion. Specifically....in that circumstance, isn't it the responsibility of the individual Christian to NOT get bogged down in such a schedule?

Another issue to look at......simply put, having something scheduled every night does not mean the leadership in the church intends for their people to be there every night. As is the case in MY "a church," (which came up in our conversation....and is now "coloring" my response as I warned might happen) having MULTIPLE EVENTS scheduled each night.....EVEN AT MAXIMUM CAPACITY.....still can only accommodate less than 12-15% of the congregation of "regular attenders." It's just the nature of a "mega-church"....which is a new phenomenon....at least in the 20th/21st Century "The Church."

One other potential caveat......there are some individuals who might be in a season of life that requires....or perhaps just makes desirable....a focussed, "retreat" designed to refresh their spirit, and/or train for a "re-launch" into a more evangelistic mode at a later time. Paul was "off-the-scene" for a dozen years or more in such a season of life. For those individuals, having something several nights per week (again....FOR A SEASON) is not only "acceptable" but is perhaps even WARRANTED.

All of that said, your point is well-taken. Barring a specific reason for "retreat," the individual believer does need to be being "salt & light." And the church whose attendance simply REQUIRES "a full calendar," needs to be careful they aren't confusing their people about their purpose as believers.

I just wanted to make sure you didn't throw EVERYONE under the bus! (haha!!)

Kris said...

I don't have much to say, just b/c you wrote this immediately following my conversation with you about this very thing :-)
But I did want to say to Todd, that this actually wasn't spawned by a conversation about THAT "a church" that you are thinking of. Although, I'm sure Josh's feelings regarding that group hasn't changed since our conversation a couple weeks ago. And he did seem to refer to it in this blog as some points.
This blog was birthed from a conversation about some friends we have in Michigan that seem to keep to their bubble of church activities and alienate everyone that used to be important to them...I hate how "cultish" this seems...and how they do it all in the name of "Christianity". Just sayin'.
My biggest beef is this: How are we supposed to reach and be a witness if we don't have meaningful relationships and minister to anyone who isn't already a "card-holder" and/or hasn't drank the kool-aid?

Mr. Dubya said...

Todd (and to whom else it may concern), please understand that my blog was written in a state of agitation over a situation where a family of "new believers" has been sucked into a bubble of conformity rather than an environment of change. There has been little more than verbal change in the life that I encounter most frequently from that situation--meaning that person has learned the verbage of mainstream Christianity, but only surface-type changes have occured. I see no evidence of honest discipleship, no heart of Christ demonstrated; and though I realize this person must share some of the blame, THAT church leadership must also be held accountable if I read the biblical record accurately. This person has a church-related activity almost every night of the week in a SMALL (not mega) church, which has caused this person to abandon friends in crisis, avoid get-togethers with "non-Christians" or at "sinful" places. You make some wonderful points. However, let me clarify on a few things.

I agree that large churches (and you know the size of the fellowship I attend) must schedule things at alternate times in this day and age. The problem with much of what I see in this phenomenon is that the adage that 10% of the people do 90% of the work, except that 20% of the people attend 90% of the "activities." I do not only blame the church leadership, but I do strongly feel it must be STRONGLY said from the pulpit and in pamphlets or bulletins or announcements or all of the above that "we (the church) need you (the congregants) to be in the community meeting people, developing friendships, and making disciples of Christ." We as Christ-followers ALL need to be doing this, not just the pastoral staff of a church or leadership in The Church.

Finally, please understand the heart behind the words. I don't mean that any particular body of believers INTENDS to promote this, but if it occurs and no one notices, or worse someone notices and says/does nothing about it, that body has a problem. I hope you know how I feel about ecumenicism (I hope that's a real word) and people working together, and I don't mean that "doing church" has no value, or that we don't all occasionally "need a break"--my family just "finished" a break and rejuvenation time--but being salt and light can never stop. To paraphrase a popular saying, we can ALL proclaim the Gospel, we just don't always have to use words while we do it. But we ALL need to do it to some extent all the time.

Alexia said...

I can def see where you are coming from; many churches get caught up in creating a community for their believers instead of presenting opportunities to reach out.

But I would have to say that we, as individuals, are responsible for ourselves and what we are involved in no matter what. I actually appreciate churches who have alot going on (not dead goings on, but alive) because it presents many opportunities for Christians to really relate with others of the same mind and to also involve the non-christian community.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but somehow think that this blog and it's following comments have something to do with Ian and I. So just to make sure we all understand each other I'd like to make a few things clear here...1) we attend a "medium size" church w/ around 1,000. We are BOTH involved in ministry at this church on a regular basis. I teach a life group on Wed. nights and teach in our childrens ministry on Sat. nights. Ian ushers on Sat. nights. so that involves TWO nights/week, I take a dance class NOT at the church on Tuesdays making that night #3, Ian has a life group that he attends on Thursdays = night #4. Our kids have AWANA on Monday nights making the grand total 5 nights a week that we are busy at or w/ church or something related. Our Saturdays are spent running kids from sporting event to sporting event and dance class to dance class. Thursdays at Girl Scouts and Wednesdays at dance for Catie...Our church doesn't FORCE us to be there; we enjoy it. Having said that, we have COMMITMENTS that REQUIRE us to be present to minister to others and teach...I'm sorry if this isn't acceptable to you for some reason? And I'm sorry that you feel the need to blame our church? We're not over committed; our life (for this season of it) needs to be at VLC. Our church does a lot of outreach that we're involved in other than those times already stated, AND i volunteer at CitylinC Ministries as well (a community based organization that does foster care and adoption as well as Christian Counseling and youth events) On top of all that my husband has a demanding job that requires him to work 12+ hours a day and be on call all night...it's not a lack of love for old friends but we can't change schedules every other month when something comes up. We schedule things around our commitments, period. I keep my word and that doesn't matter if it's to my church or my friend...and after being friends for 15+ years I guess I thought you knew that?? I'm sorry that our busy lives have prompted such an outrageous conversation...

Kris said...

Goodess, I didn't think so many ppl would think so strongly against this blog. I just don't understand why friends and community get put by the wayside when ppl get so involved with a church. That's what spawned this blog. Josh and I were grieving over friends that have distanced themselves from their life-long friends period. I don't see how that is a representation of what Jesus would want us to do. I'm tired of picking up the pieces leftover from Christians who hurt their friends. I will continue to do so, but please, just remember that church should be more for the sick not just an exclusive club for the healthy. When that becomes askew, you will hear the word, "hypocrisy" a lot. Many of my friends who were formally part of a church say this is their #1 reason for leaving the church and Christianity. It makes me morph into a bundle of sad and mad when I hear that! I'm so tired of it being OUR fault! How could we mess this up?!

Salena Lynn said...

Family and friends are important too. If a church and the people in it care about you then they would probably be o.k. with a lack of absence once in awhile if something important is going on with family or friends. God certainly wouldn't be upset over it, it doesn't show any less love for Him. It's important to work on old relationships as well as new.