Why Church?


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My church family offers music, drama, video, intelligent and creative speakers and a call to action…all in a professional production package.

I want to start a conversation and I would love to hear your thoughts.  I hope we won’t argue, pout, yell or shout.  I hope we hear educated insight, thoughtful opinion, real-life experience, deeply moving perspective and, perhaps, learn something from one another in the end.

I know it might be irreverent to ask this on a Sunday morning while so many people fill the pews and enjoy the worship but here’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately:  Why church?

Unfortunately, I have yet to land on a good answer, despite growing up in the church, spending more than a dozen years in the pulpit and just as many helping plan worship services, children’s services, youth programs and special events.

I get the “party line” that we come to worship God and recharge for another week, but why like this?  Why do we stand when we sing?  Why do we listen to a single man (or woman, for you wacky liberals) talk for 30-40 minutes?  Why do we show up in these buildings and isolate ourselves for one hour a week?  Why hymns?  Why choruses?  Why church?

I get that the first New Testament Church was gathered in one place when it all began…But after that?  What happened after that?  Didn’t they meet from house to house?  Sure they probably sang but did they have brass bands and keyboards?  Did they have children’s church and coffee shops?  Did they have arguments about the color of the carpet or the style of worship?

I’m not saying that what the early church did was the only way and I’m not suggesting that what some churches do now is all wrong.

I’ve experienced everything in worship short of Snake Handling.   I’ve worshiped in a tiny Methodist Church that didn’t have indoor plumbing.  The out house was located in the back of the cemetery.  The Sears Catalog was still in place.

I’ve worshiped in mega churches with half-a-dozen projection units and enough lighting to land a plane.  The band is rocking and the smoke machine is churning.  And yet, people get up to leave early so they won’t miss the football game.

I’ve been in Charismatic Worship, heard prophesy, tongues and interpretation of tongues.  I’ve seen people fall down in the spirit, wave their hankies and dance a little.

I’ve visited Catholic Mass and Baptist Hymn Sings.  I’ve enjoyed Tent Revivals, Midnight Vespers and Wednesday Night Bible Studies.  I’ve prayed with homeless men and played guitar for 100 hopped up youth.

I’ve been in worship.  I’ve led worship.  In fact, I calculate I’ve heard nearly 2,500 sermons in my life-time.  Some of them were my own preaching and pretty darn good.  Others were my own preaching and pretty darn bad.  But in the end, what difference does it make?  Despite this life-time of experience, nearly 5 decades of Sunday morning hoopla, today I’m asking one question:  Why church?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I truly believe that we come to know God by being with fellow believers, serving, working, praying and studying together. For some, standing alone in the woods, enjoying God’s creation is a blessing to their soul, but it isn’t everything.   In the past 40 years, many of my most meaningful experiences with God occurred in the setting of fellow followers who challenged me, grew with me, carried me when I was weak and loved me until I was strong.  I’m not questioning Church (with a capital C) – as in the Body of Christ, the Hands and Feet of Jesus reaching out to the lost.  I’m asking, Why church?

Is it a club that keeps our members happy and the uninitiated out in the cold?  Is it a place where all our needs must be met – spiritual, mental and physical?  Is church the instrument of God’s grace in this world or is it just another overpriced building used once a week for our special show?  Is Sunday morning an opportunity to have the best singers perform special music and mediocre speakers to give us their anemic opinions in the form of 3 points and a poem or a real agent of change?

Perhaps you have the answer that will settle my weary soul.  It’s possible you’ve been asking the same questions for as many years.  But I’m finding myself asking a hard question with few easy answers.

Let me end with these three stories…

In one of the churches I served, an elderly woman who had attended for years made first-time visitors get up out of the pew and sit somewhere else because they were in “her seat”.  She’d dedicated a hymnal to her dead husband and they were sitting in the spot where HER hymnal was placed.   The visitors never returned.

In one congregation, the members requested that we sing hymn #92 each week because it was a former pastor’s favorite song.  We ended every service honoring the dead pastor, rather than honoring God.

My favorite is the church where the women wanted to shut down the food pantry because “those dirty people who could work if they wanted to” were soiling the new carpet in the halls.

More recently, a congregation got bent out of shape because a drama prior to the sermon mentioned being Christ-like to a homosexual couple.  An apology was later issued for offending anyone.  Oddly enough, the sermon was about Jesus engaging and loving the marginalized.  I guess the people Jesus calls us to love doesn’t include democrats and homosexuals.

In this season of Lent, as we prepare for Easter, the risen Lord and all that it stands for, I’m asking a heartfelt, soul-stirring question.  Seriously.  Why do we do all that we do for a Sunday morning show?  I’m not just wanting to vent.  I want answers.  I need answers.  And I think I’m looking forward to the conversation.

10 thoughts on “Why Church?

  1. As I understand it, Christianity in the first 300 years was small and relatively unknown. The early Christians met in people’s homes. It grew when Constantine became a Christian and declared it the national religion. I find that so interesting because I belong to a new religion which is small in number. In the 12 years I’ve been in Indy we have had a center (a building) in which to meet. The community here built that building at the same time we moved here. In those 12 years, I’ve seen attendance at meetings decline. And I wonder if some of it isn’t because this center is not a home. It’s very nice mind you but it lacks the personal intimate feeling of being in someone’s home. It’s hard to get the sense after being there that one really knows anyone else. So I’ve decided I prefer meeting others in their homes. I’d rather know a few people well than know a lot of people superficially.

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    • I think you are right. The members of our small group are the ones who hold me accountable to my journey, my actions, my words. They know me. They know my heart. I can’t imagine life without them.

      The larger Church also has its function, I’m sure. Finding meaning in the routine is tricky.

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  2. I am disturbed that we spend millions to build these structures really for man than God., I have found bringing people together to worship, to share God’s vision and to serve is joyful and necessary. The church stands in opposition to a society that lack moral strength and compassion. Yet, we use these same institutions to push out those who we find outside our purview – homosexuals and dirty feet and democrats. I fear that Jesus and his disciples would wipe the dust off their feet and move on. Yet, we come back. We plod along. People meet God. We count it good.

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    • I think that last part is the hard part. People meet God. They really do. Whether a small Methodist church or a mega church, people come to know God through the process. But isn’t there a better way to do it? From the very earliest days, we’ve repeated the same Sunday morning service…Isn’t there a new way? Surely, of all the people out there, John, you can think of something!

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  3. Curt- You’ve hit on the same question that Andrew and I have been pondering… We could add to the stories you tell of something that should be doing something so right, but turns out so wrong. I to don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water, but have found some help in some others who have brought the same question to the table. In the last year, I have connected with a man named Wayne Jacobson. His website and blog have put words on why this question. Also, a book called Pagan Christianity has shined some light. I’ve realized that some structures don’t allow for what Christ intended and truly there is a better way.

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  4. I find your questions relevant. They cast light on the fact that “church” is always going to be complicated and flawed as long as people are involved. I’ve long thought that one good solar flare that knocks out our power grid for at least six months would do a lot of good, across the entire human spectrum, as far as sifting goes. But it would result in a lot of bad, too (see ‘Solar Flare’ by the late Larry Burkett). It would be better to hope against the mother of all solar flares and for followers of Jesus to keep making Spirit-filled adjustments from the inside out.

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    • Yes…I’ve always said that church would be really good if it weren’t for the people. But it is these adjustments that I’m trying to think through. Adjustments must be made. I like the idea of Spirit-filled adjustments better than solar flares, world-wide floods, and pillars of salt!

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  5. Some of the best and worst people I have ever met have been church-people. I have been wounded beyond repair and yet loved into complete wholeness by church-people. Church sometimes seems to contain and represent the best and worst of humanity. We learned last week about the “Circle of Influence” and the “Circle of Concern.” My “Circle of Concern” are those that behave the worst and my “Circle of Influence” is me behaving my best. I leave behind the notion that I can change “them,” I embrace the possibility that I can change me. I can be the one that will make you want to come back each Sunday. I can be the one that makes fellowship worthwhile. And when I am acting the fool – I hope you will be the one that will make me want to come back each Sunday and that makes fellowship worthwhile – the best and worst of all we are…

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