What Kind of Church Do You Want to Be?

One of the most respected and renowned preachers in the United States is Barbara Brown Taylor…in spite of the fact that a large portion of Wester Christianity does not recognize her right to speak from the pulpit of a church.

If you can listen to her and still tell me that women CANNOT be called by God to preach, then I can’t do much for you. But moving on…

In one of her books, Taylor discusses the struggle that some are having with the church and describes their frustration:

Still, some of us were not satisfied with our weekly or biweekly encounters with God. We wanted more than set worship services or church work could offer us. We wanted more than planning scavenger hunts for the youth group … more than serving on the outreach committee or rehearsing anthems with the choir. We wanted More. We wanted a deeper sense of purpose. We wanted a stronger sense of God’s presence. We wanted more reliable ways both to seek and stay in that presence – not for an hour on Sunday morning or Wednesday afternoon but for as much time as we could stand. And yet the only way most of us knew to get that was to spend more time in church. So we volunteered more, dreamed  up more programs, invited more people to more classes where we could read more books. The minute we walked back out to our cars, many of us could feel the same old gnawing inside. Once we left church, we were not sure what to do anymore.

Taylor’s description tells us a lot about the kind of church we want–and do not want–to be.

We do not want to be a church that “contains” God–Instead, we want to strive to be a group of believers who live God. If the presence of God can be contained within 1-2 hour segments that only exist in the confines of brick and mortar, then God is relatively weak. If that is how we experience the presence of the Almighty, then we should question if that is even God that we are worshipping.

We do not want to be a church that limits spiritual activity–Instead, we strive to be a group of believers who experience God in many ways, in many places.

I love the deacons at Augusta Heights; but if that’s the extent of our activity for God, then we need to re-think…and pray.  A LOT.

God is bigger than any committee meeting. Our meetings should empower us to live Christ where WE live–at home, in restaurants, at work, in bars, in the grocery store.

We do not want to restrict our outreach to “fun time”–In working with students in one form or another for the last 23 years, I have recognized that the fun events draw the biggest crowds. I also note that these have the smallest impact on the lives of students. Oh, they produce good memories and good laughs that in and of themselves are worthy of our time, but they do not necessarily help students make long-term commitments to Christ.

Event-based “fun” stuff is the basis for fellowship and getting to know people. But these are starting points of connection, not finishing lines. Our search for God is deeper than that, and the desires that people have to know God in Jesus Christ run much more powerfully than that. We use these as a basis to create deeper, more lasting relationships with God–and with one another.

People can have a good time in a lot of places. What can we provide that helps them gain a deeper understanding of the Living God?

We do not want to discount those fun activities in order to be “serious” Christians–If there is one criticism that I have of Christianity as a whole, it is that we sometimes take ourselves way too seriously. While we cannot make faith a solely fun and games experience, we also cannot discount the power of laughter.

I remember a church experience as a young, rambunctious and often annoying middle schooler. I was visiting a friend’s church one Sunday and, as always, we were goofing off before worship service. I remember someone leaning forward to us and saying, “You two can stop that right now or I’ll give you a reason to stop laughing. This isn’t the place for that, this is church!”

Really? Then why do we have all those scriptures about joy and praise and celebration and rejoicing?

It’s not that we should shun any effort at reverence or solemnity in our worship experience, but we also need to recognize that church is supposed to be fun! It should be challenging and enjoyable at the same time–and yes, that IS possible!

We should not limit our theology to Sunday School–Okay, before anyone goes off the deep end, I am NOT criticizing Sunday School! Nor am I proposing–and would never propose–that we get rid of Sunday School. (Okay, I would not mind changing the name, but we can debate that another day).

But sometimes churches think that theological and Biblical education can only happen at 9:30am with a quarterly in front of us. If that is the case, then why is it that my most enlightening and challenging theological discussions take place outside of a classroom?

We need the “baseline” knowledge that the classroom can provide, but we also need to recognize that not everyone learns that way. And if we do not discuss or apply that knowledge outside of the classroom, then we are limiting the impact that God wants to have on us with that knowledge.

Keep going to Sunday School, but we need to be willing to find other “classrooms” when we are out in the world.

To sum it up, I go back to Barbara Brown Taylor’s comments:  We do not need to be a church that leaves you wondering what to do when you get in the car after worship/meeting/Bible study/etc. We DO need to be a church that is looking to help people have a living faith and a living experience with a LIVING, present-tense God.

This is a pretty philosophical basis for discussion, but there are many more ideas out there about what we need to be, or do not need to be. What are your thoughts on the matter.

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