The Church of Me

Me Church. Ugh!! I am so very tired of this kind of thing! It’s all about me. I’m looking for a church that serves my needs like my internet service provider and cellphone service meet my needs.

Now, I do feel that people should have an input into worship. The language of the people (using “language” both literally and figuratively) are wisely considered when planning worship. For example, I serve in a semi-rural parish in Western NC. The culture of the area and the people in the congregation do not connect well with formal “high church” worship and, therefore, we typically have a simpler worship with fewer adornments to the liturgy. Much to my somewhat disappointment, because I LOVE every bit of formality one can muster.

Appropriate worship is like appropriate dress. How do you decide what to wear to an event or for an activity? There’s likely a range of things with varying degrees of accoutrement that are appropriate. Wearing a ball gown to a 4th of July cookout would be inappropriate, likely uncomfortable and would probably prevent you from participating in the community gathered for the activity. And, yet, there is no set “uniform” for such events and there is freedom in choice of attire. There is room for personal expression, comfort, etc. withing parameters. The same is true for a more formal event as well. Regardless of what the style, however, you do wear clothes. Unless, of course, you are Lady Ga Ga and if that’s the case, my whole analogy falls apart here, so I’m just assuming none of us are her.

So in discerning worship for a community, it is wise to think about it in those kinds of terms. Within certain parameters of what will provide a certain level of comfort and familiarity and permit persons to fairly easily participate in the activities of the gathered community. We all do this together, after all. It is “liturgy”–work of the people. Can I wear a chasuble here without having people feel like the pastor is putting on a costume? Yes, that worked out just fine, though the majority of people had no idea what that was prior to some clarification. I would not want anyone to mistake worship for a theater performance. Can incense be used effectively to elaborate upon the liturgy without the people being so distracted by it that they think they’ll have an unstopable asthma attack or feel they are on a movie set with a smoke machine? Nope, that one didn’t work out. Oh well, there is freedom in adiaphora. All of this is true beyond just the worship aspects of the church community. In fact, the same kinds of things apply to the whole of the church.

However, we do go too far. This video, while funny, is too true in so many ways. I know of churches that give away gift cards to local chain stores when you visit. Each time you come back, you get a higher value card. This makes me cringe. It smacks of banks giving away toasters when you open a savings account. Is that what we want to make people think of? Not the cross, or salvation, or grace, or God Almighty but a give away??  I’ve heard of mega churches that actually do have places on site for you to have your car washed and the oil changed when you are in worship. Why not also have a laundry mat and dry cleaners as well? I know life is busy, but must the church be a one-stop-shopping convenience store? Must we continually lower ourselves into the fray of competition for someone to choose us over other equal and like things in the marketplace? Must we continue enticing individuals to consume us as they would consume a fast food meal rather than reaching out to lift up others as they are consumed by the God of all creation? I will admit that I am hyper-alergic to some of these clearly consumerist things because I cannot even stand to see a bookstore inside a church. Unless you are a European cathedral over five hundred years old, I see no reason for this at all. I’m not certain that I like it even then, but there are other factors that do not concern me in those cases.

I sympathize greatly with those who struggle to bring in members and are tempted to try to cater to potential members who have a consumerist idea of what a churchy-type organization needs to do to meet their felt needs. My church is a tiny one and every visitor is a mini miracle to the members. But Me Church is not evangelism. Me Church isn’t church growth. Me Church is, frankly, The Anti Church. None of us who truly love the church, both clergy and lay, church professionals and parishioners, really want to be The Anti Church. We want our congregations to live and grow and thrive. We do not want to close the doors of any congregation for good. These are fine things to want and I do not disparage them at all. However, we must turn our focus away from these small, short sighted ends. I say this with great compassion for these wants, for I, too, want my little congregation to live and grow and thrive and to not close the doors for good. But the church is not to have self-sustaining systems as its goal. The church is to have Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God as its purpose; the definition of its very existence, its source of life. If we do not have the proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed through worship, prayer, administration of the sacraments and acts of mercy in the name of God as our purpose for existence then we are a rudderless ship. If we do not have as our system of sustenance the acting out of the Kingdom of God of which we are already citizens, then we are one of  a million mere volunteer charity organizations that, indeed, do good in the world but have no purpose beyond their own. Or perhaps we are, in the worst times, mere clubs, sororities or fraternities, or maybe even discount shopping programs. And that is not the church. If we want to be any of those things, we can do them better somewhere else. But if we want to be the people of God, then we must be none of those other things, we must not be the Me Church. We must be the church.

Since this is a subject near and dear to my heart, I will continue to post on this topic over the summer.

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