I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline/progressive church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Then I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.”. My next question was about a “Salvation Moment” and my answer. Then I asked What does a Christian Look Like? and gave my answer. I asked about Discipleship and Accountability and then gave my answer. Then I asked Why do we have church? And who should the church be for?And gave my answer. Then we got into the church nitty gritty and I gave my answer of Tradition Vs. Ritual. I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).
Yesterday I raised the question of Missional vs. Attractional, or, more specifically, who/what is the worship service for. Here are my thoughts:
On the one hand, I believe church services should be attractional. They should be appealing to the people who come. I think most of us have had the experience of walking into a new church and being completely confused. We don’t know when to stand up or sit down. We don’t know where to find things (like the hymnals or the bathrooms). We have no one to talk to. It’s incredibly alienating and uncomfortable. I think we’ve probably also had the experience of being in a worship service that was painfully boring; not contemplative and quiet but just boring. This is a problem. If someone were to wander into our worship service, they need to be able to figure out what is going on (clear instructions in the bulletin or on the screen) and they need to be able to find the bathrooms (and have bathrooms that are gender neutral and safe)!
On the other hand, I believe worship is a bit of an insider experience. A worship service should not be the place where people are learning about Jesus for the first time. It should not be the “face” of our community. It shouldn’t be what all our energy is centered around, nor do I think it should be the “thing” we invite people to. On this front I think the missional church people have it right: we should be out there, in the community, making a difference.
I see the act of having a worship service serving a very specific function in a community. That service is the place where people are strengthened for the journey and where they mark ritual and sacrament together. The service is not the primary place for outreach, for education, or even for teaching (although a bit of that happens). Instead the service is the community coming together to worship God and to gain strength. Which means that worship service cannot be the only thing a church does.
I believe that following in the way of Jesus means resisting the things the world tells us are important. Which means that following in the way of Jesus is exhausting. It’s counter cultural. It’s an attempt to do something that you are constantly told is silly, or futile, or wrong. You need to be able to gather with other people who are on the same journey to encourage one another.
At the same time, I think the Christian life is something that is so exciting, so worthwhile that it draws people in. My favorite scene in the first “Sister Act” movie is the one where Whoopi Goldberg’s character has taken over the choir. Watch the scene below:
People are so drawn by the music that they wander in off the street. The Sisters take a very traditional hymn but make it accessible to people who aren’t from the church. But it’s not just about the music and the worship because the very next scene shows the Sisters leaving their cloister to go be a part of the neighborhood. It’s this push/pull of accessibility and getting out of our cloisters.
It’s also about understanding that the worship service is such a small part of what the church is about (even though an important one). How many churches, though, spend so much time and resources on the worship service? On having a building to have a worship service in? On that once a week meeting? And so we pour energy into making that once a week meeting really interesting but the odds are the people won’t walk in off the street simply because our music is so good. They will, however, be drawn by our lives in the community.
I realize that it sounds as if I am contradicting myself in this post, and honestly I am. That’s the tension. Worship is for insiders, but should be accessible. Worship shouldn’t be our focus, but should be done with great care. These are paradoxes, I know. I’m okay with the tension. What I’m not okay with is boring worship services combined with churches who never leave their buildings (and who don’t let anyone else come into their buildings). I’m not okay with resources (time, money, talents) being poured into a once a week gathering without the church coming together any other time (and board meetings/committee meetings don’t count as coming together). I’m not okay with telling people to come to our worship services when we refuse to go out and be a part of the community.
I see church as a non-residential intentional community. It's a group of people who are committed, not only to one another, but also to following in the way of Jesus in a specific community and location. Worship is like the community meeting. A place where people can share their struggles and triumphs with one another, a place where sacred time is marked, a place where the community can support one another and pray for one another. It's the place where people gather around rituals of Eucharist and song and pray and gain strength for the work. If someone wanders into the intentional meeting they should be welcomed with overwhelming hospitality and invited to join the feast. But they should never be left with the impression that Worship is the only thing or the most important thing a community does.