Why go to church? It’s about CONNECTION
March 27, 2017
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In previous posts, I discussed how Jesus and his DIY videos in the Bible provide a life pattern for us as B-Flat Christians. This isn’t something we experience alone, however; we need to connect with others along the way.
Why go to church?
As a B-Flat Christian, it’s possible that you don’t even go to church. In fact, it’s more likely that you don’t go to church. You believe in God, you try to do the “love your neighbor as yourself” thing, you even say a blessing before you eat dinner. Isn’t that enough? Why does church matter?
According to multiple on-line articles, recent research states that most millennials don’t attend church because they feel it is irrelevant to them and not speaking to their needs (recklesslyalive.com, thesaltcollective.com, discuss this issue). As a result of this, there is a narrative that the Church is in a coma and the prognosis is that the Church isn’t going to make it. Perhaps I am clueless, but I don’t believe this, and we as B-Flat Christians should collectively dispute this narrative. I will not deny there are kernels of truth here and there, but let’s drill a bit deeper.
Below are some statements I’ve heard or read lately about why Church is losing membership today. I’ve added some thoughts to “ponder in your heart,” as Mary did after the whirlwind of Jesus’s birth (Luke 2:19). I love that word—ponder—because it suggests more than just thinking about something. It indicates a fond, intimate look at something, holding it up to the light, looking at it from all angles, again and again.
1) You can go to church by watching TV on Sunday morning, or even by listening to gospel on the radio (according to Maren Morris, anyway), right? Church can be anywhere you happen to be, and frankly, anywhere is pretty much where you’d rather be.
You can think you’re going to church by watching TV, listening to a podcast, listening to the radio, whatever, but it’s not church.
So if Jesus is our DIY model, then why didn’t He just do it all on his own? He could have, you know—God can do anything. Instead, Jesus found others to help him, and without those others, the New Law of the Gospel wouldn’t have gotten very far.
Church is about community, which means it’s about being with others. It’s about sharing thoughts, burdens, dreams, sorrows. You can’t share these things with an inanimate object—a TV, a computer screen, an iPod. Writing a comment on someone’s Facebook feed is not a conversation.
I’m not saying watching a religious show isn’t a fine thing to do, but it should not replace walking with others, making discoveries together, and being a source of hope for your community by lifting up the poor and disadvantaged.
Church is about time, a very precious commodity, and is another reason why many B-Flat Christians don’t feel like going to church. If you are allergic to committees, then don’t serve on one. If you don’t want to be responsible for Sunday School, or provide flowers for the altar, or be an usher, tithing, or any of the other duties you equate with “going to church,” fine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “I want to go to church, but don’t make me do anything.” Okay. If that’s what you can handle, then do it. I cannot imagine you will not absorb something your soul needs on the days you do go to church.
2) There are a lot of things to get done on Sundays. Your kids probably have soccer practice; the house is a wreck and needs cleaning; and it’s the only day you have time to go see a movie. Why waste it going to church?
Most churches have many choices of when you go to church, and often, will include more than one service on a Sunday. Some churches offer services throughout the week, so you can take advantage of one of those, can’t you? And if a formal church service isn’t what you’re after, then find a Bible Study, or small group, to be part of. Small groups often do other things outside of the meeting time. Others need to hear you, to get to know you, and in our society today, it’s CRUCIAL that people continue trying to find ways to come together and just talk.
3) Why go to church and force yourself to listen to what a bad person you are? All that confession stuff—what is that really about? Your self-esteem takes a beating every day as it is, whether it’s your kids rolling their eyes at the comment you just said that, to you, sounded quite hip; or your boss, who tells you once again that your latest project demonstrates the innovation of a toenail. On Sunday, you need to be lifted up, not told how you need to fix yourself.
Confession is not fun, nor is admitting the fact that you can be a jerk. You know you are. I sure am. Church provides a time for self-reflection, a thing our culture tends to do only on the surface. Not that we aren’t involved in ourselves, heavens, no—how many selfies do YOU take a day, by the way? How many times do you update your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts? How often do you count how many “likes” you have on a recent post? We can refer to ourselves as “our culture,” or “millennials,” or “Gen X-ers” or “Baby Boomers” (please take your pick, or insert something else) but WHOEVER want all things personalized. We are so self-involved, believing that all things that are not dedicated to our own needs and self-gratification are not valuable.
Looking at yourself in the mirror isn’t really looking at yourself. You need to look in an internal mirror. If you don’t like something you see, then you need to determine how you will make it right. Whether it’s praying, apologizing to someone for something you’ve said or done, whatever, self-reflection and bringing about change in yourself is part of confession. We don’t tend to do this much on our own at home or at work; if you do it at church, you feel more accountable some how. It becomes a shared experience, too, where everyone is confessing together, as one united voice. There is undeniable power in hearing a group of voices in a chorus, whether it’s confessing short-comings, reading the Psalms, praying, or reciting the Creed.
Yes, Christians can be hypocrites. News flash: Christians are not perfect and have tons of short-comings. You are also a hypocrite, about things you probably do not even realize. It is still not a reason to deny that church could be a place to help you discover, and even improve things about yourself
4) And then there’s the music. If you go to church, you’ll have to listen to those stuffy hymns like “Bringing In the Sheaves” (insert “obnoxious contemporary Christian music,” or “dumb liturgical chant stuff that you don’t know” as needed instead). The choir is less than stellar, and the organist spends half of his time trying to sound like “The Phantom of the Opera” or something.
This is a centuries old argument, but the fact is that music is still being used in creative ways to enhance worship, no matter what type. Perhaps the number one thing that churches argue about is what type of music should be in the service. My own church has had this discussion for years, and while we now have a contemporary service, there are still some residual negative feelings about it.
As a young sophomore in college, I had to take Music History for two semesters. I was astonished to discover that this disagreement about music has gone on for literally CENTURIES. During the Renaissance, the musical aesthetic was balance, symmetry, predictable and resolved dissonances, and utter beauty. Palestrina is probably the composer who personified this style. Cut to the 1600’s, and suddenly, you hear a totally new aesthetic in the concert hall—monody (a single voice accompanied by a chordal instrument), stile recitativo (having the emotional expression of the text be the main point of focus in all musical compositions) and opera (telling stories through music using monody and stile recitativo together). Claudio Monteverdi, one of the most cutting-edge and monolithic composers of this time, composed amazing pieces that utilized liturgical texts, and portions of the Mass, but in a way like no one had heard before, because he also composed operas. It seems natural that some of that new secular style would begin bleeding into his new sacred style.
Guess what? People hated it. They said, “Wait, that’s what we hear at the opera during the week, not what we’re supposed to hear in church. This Monteverdi guy breaks all of the rules of what appropriate music to worship the Lord is supposed to be like.” Sound familiar?
I feel very strongly that music is a personal expression, and therefore, is experienced by each person differently. To account for this difference, Church needs to provide a variety of styles that will appeal to the congregation. Congregations must understand that the Holy Spirit speaks to everyone, and how the Spirit speaks to you is not how it speaks to me. That is really OK. It must be OK. We must stop making value judgments about music—calling it “good” or “bad”—because it does not help unite us, does not further our cause, and basically, is unnecessary.
5) Why go to church when all there are is old people anyway? You need to go to a church where there are youth, young adults, children. You don’t have anything in common with old people, and everyone says churches who have no young people are dying. If you don’t see any youth in the church, you should turn right around and walk back out.
I think we all realize that the hair in our congregations looks grayer than it used to. Most people would admit that older folks were brought up to go to church on a more regular basis than those in subsequent generations. Going to church is more habitual, as a result, for older folks. Now, explain to me, why is that a bad thing? Why do millennials (or 80’s people like me, or Gen X-ers, or whomever) think that going to church with old people is uncool? I know, church should be full of people from all walks of life and all ages, but if my church has more older folks, when did that become a bad thing? When did going to church with people who “look just like me” become the desired norm?
The way our culture treats the older generation is, in my opinion, pretty awful. Often, people don’t live near their grandparents and don’t have a strong relationship with them. The new “thing” for older folks is to go live together in retirement communities, away from young people, away from children. Worse yet, when old folks become infirm, they go into nursing homes, “the last bus-stop before glory.” This separation of old people from the rest of society is alarming to me.
I feel Church provides a wonderful opportunity for young people to mix with and get to know older folks. My children have “adopted” some of our older church members as second grandparents, as my parents don’t live close by. My daughter in particular loves to make her Sunday morning rounds in church, hugging tons of older folks who look forward to her hugs every week. If we went to a mega-church full of screaming youth, I can’t imagine how she would feel comfortable doing that. For our family, it works.
Furthermore, my church provides numerous social activities for our older folks. Frankly, many of the older folks in my church put me to shame with the amount of community organizing they do through my church, whether it’s making quilts for newborn babies, providing a free noon meal for the homeless on Saturdays, or just getting together to go see a musical show. Our older folks are active, and what’s more, they’re retired. They’re hungry to get out and do things, and have no plans to slow down any time soon. I am speechless and awed by these folks and can only hope to be as active as they are now. We younger generations have a ton to learn from these wise, gracious, and funny people. Church is a great place to do this.
6) Of course, the worst is the pastor. This guy sounds like Ben Stine on downers. He’s intelligent, but good heavens, it is so dull sitting there listening to stories about prophets and people who died centuries ago. Half of that stuff seems irrelevant to us in the twenty-first century.
A pastor’s vision and leadership for the congregation is, admittedly, important, yet it is not of sole importance. Our church went through a period of around three years where we didn’t have a consistent pastor. Our pastor had become gravely ill, and while he was getting medical help, we had a series of guest pastors. When that pastor decided to not return to our church, we had an interim pastor, and then began the difficult process of finding a new pastor. While we did lose some members, we somehow weathered this time and made it through.
I will admit, I was angry at those who left our church at the time. To me, it was like giving up on a marriage—you don’t just leave, you try to stay and make it better. I realize those people had to leave, and I can only hope they found a church elsewhere. We now have a wonderful pastor who is trying to guide us to what we are supposed to do in our community.
While having a pastor again is encouraging, I feel the pastor should not BE the church; it is the members who compose the body of Christ. No one person does that. A pastor is a shepherd (from the Latin “pastor”), a person who looks out for the sheep and leads them to where they need to sleep, eat, and be safe. The thing to keep in mind is that the sheep will exist without the pastor; so, a pastor should not be synonymous with the Church. A pastor’s sermons should be inspiring, but sermons aren’t what a church is about, either. Church must be more than that—it needs to be what happens on Sunday, but also what happens outside of the sanctuary. Church must happen in, and abide in, people. Hearing the stories of how the people in the Bible handled their relationships with God really can inform our own relationships with Him today.
Which brings us back full circle to—WHY go to Church? Because Church isn’t a place you go to—it is people. Church is you. Church is your friend; church is also that person you disagree with (otherwise known as your enemy, whom you are supposed to pray for and let slap your other cheek, by the way).
While I feel Church needs to make some radical changes in order to stay relevant, I will also add that if millennials (again, insert here whatever generation you are part of) want to blame their absence on the church itself, they can do that, but that’s too easy. “They just don’t understand me in Church” is a cop out. I do not mean to sound like I am denying the Church has much to occupy it in this difficult time of transition. It is just that I’m tired of hearing about how people feel that church doesn’t cater to a certain generation’s mentality. If you feel that, then you are not going to the church that suits you. Find one that does. Even better, find out ways to change your church to make it suit the population that attends it; but giving up and blaming the church—All Churches–is unfair.