Last week I wrote a post Cultural Byproduct or Biblical Prerequisite?, that in a sense was a follow up post to one entitled Cultural Shifts within the American Church. Since then there has transpired an ongoing conversation with another blogger. The following post is part of this ongoing conversation around the cultural shifts taking place, current church culture and structure, as well as community interactions... If you are new to the blog, you may want to read those two posts, along with their corresponding comments to jump fully into the conversation...
It should be noted first of all, that we are living at a unique time in history. There are major shifts taking place in the ways people process, understand and communicate information. Many sociologist use descriptions such as post-literate, post-enlightenment, post-modern and so forth. All of these are and will continue to have significant effect on how followers of Jesus gather, interact and communicate. I spent an hour-and-a-half last night conversing about all of this with about 15 other people. It was an exciting conversation to say the least… All that to say, there is a lot going on…and much more is happening than the specific examples we are referencing…none of which I’ll have time or space to go into here… That’s my take at a lame disclaimer – saying –with all that being said, there are other factors to be considered as well…
“We also have a number of staged productions, a cool way of sharing the gospel, but is all of the staging necessary? It's a great way to serve masses, but doesn't serve to connect people to other people in the church? Is that the only way weekly Sunday church can be done?”
I agree with this in that, often Sunday morning gatherings do not serve well to “connect people to other people.” There are a number of contributing factors such as, fixed seating. It would be great to have a room (not on a slant), with unbolted chairs, moveable, re-designable from week to week, and much more conducive for “connecting people” and fostering interactive community. (And yet, is Sunday morning the only time/place that can/is/should happen?). This is one of the reasons we frequently throw out a topic and/or a question to be conversed over by people in the audience. We believe people have a part to play, and one of them is speaking into the life of the community, not to mention the palatable insights, wisdom, perspective and experiences that may be gained by others. It is also a way to help people “connect” and interact, as well as talk about “spiritual things.” Something many people don’t (for whatever reason) do regularly.
Western American Church culture is such that people often have expected to come into a big room (the sanctuary), face one direction, and listen to the “sage on the stage” dispense the heavenly wisdom for the day. They don’t typically come predisposed and ready to engage in a community conversation, etc. (This is one of the elemental shifts that is taking place. Historically it has had its place, and is still useful in some regards, though perhaps in need of some tweaking.)
Additionally, this is one of the reasons that we try to incorporate various means of communication or as anonymous put it “staging.” The goal here isn’t to be slick, trendy or even cool. The goal is to engage and communicate to a room full of people coming from various backgrounds, learning styles, life experiences, and so on.
Look at Scripture.
How did God communicate to humanity throughout Scripture?
Personally, one-on-one, visions, dreams, lightening, thunder, earthquakes, smoke, smells, angels, prophets (speaking, yelling, weeping, writing, miming [i.e. acting out prophetic messages without any words. Like Ezekiel laying on his side for many days… or when he build a clay tablet, drew a picture of the city…then smashed it.], Jesus with mud, sand, birds, flowers, pearls, fields, and on and on…
God/Jesus communicated in 3-D, iMax, Dolby-Surround Sound, Interactive, experiential, didactic, linear, loopy, visual, emotional, auditory, tactical, kinesthetic and essentially any means possible. It seems that God took the perspective, as Shakespeare once said, “the whole world is a stage.” God created humanity unique and different, therefore, if we are to follow His example, we must employ a variety of creative-communication components (be that an image, text on a screen, a lazy-boy, other people from the community, dramas, videos, or even a treadmill).
The intention is always as the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:1-4:
1-That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our
eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:1-4 NKJ)
I love how the Message translates these verse:
1 From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in--we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. 2 The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we're telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. 3 We saw it, we heard it, and now we're telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! Walk in the Light. (1 John 1:1-4 The Message)
Therefore, I strongly believe it (the Sunday stage) has its place. Yet, also agree, connecting people (especially on a Sunday morning where there are a number of preconceived notions of what it means to “go to church.” [If that is even feasible! Can someone “go to church”? is that even biblical. Selah…).
Anonymous also asked, “Is that the only way Sunday church can be done.”
What if this Sunday we unbolted all the seats, and spent from 10:30-12:00pm in small clusters of conversation around some particular ideas…? Would that qualify as church? It would (potentially) serve better to “connect” people… (If anybody has a way of unbolting seats, filling in a large room with concrete/wood to level it out, and the resources to buy new seats, tables, [you can even throw in some espresso machines], let me know… I’ll help you…) All that to say, “no” this isn’t the only way to do “church service.” We are trying more and more (with what we have) to ask ourselves how can we communicate what God’s heart is, get people to interact with that heart, even each other, and ultimately keep becoming the people God has purposed us to be-coming…
This is perhaps where other environments come into play to help foster what a Sunday morning may not be able to… Church DOES NOT equal Sunday at 10:30 am. (Yet for many, this is not the subliminal-subconscious understanding. This too, is one of the “shifts” taking place.) Church is bigger than Sunday morning… Much Bigger. True Christian formation takes place in the “market place,” around the dinner table, in the break-room, in the serving (be it in the church building – helping to facilitate ministry and engage people, or somewhere in the streets of South Bend or beyond, or a host of other expressions…
Anonymous, commented that:
“Churches can operate like restaurants….Did the servant ever really get to know the customer? Did the customer get to know the servant or just the service. Jesus heart is here somehow, it's got to be.”
I can see where anonymous is coming from. One of the things I appreciate in this statement, is that it is written with a sense of hope, “Jesus heart is here somehow, it’s go to be.”
I believe Jesus has given the church community a responsibility to “serve” those He has brought their way. In a way, I suppose this could be like a restaurant. Hopefully, we’re serving something worth eating… Part of that responsibility should instill an element of doing things right, good, and with a sense of excellence. And yet, perhaps unlike, or more than any restaurant, we’re not just “waiting” on people to get a better tip. Hopefully, prayerfully with some intentionality there will be authenticity, love, care, and sincere interaction-engagement-communication and community development. (With the understanding that according to Hall’s theory of intimacy, some people want very much to be engaged on a personal level and some people would rather not even have some one ask them their name nor shake their hand upon entering a service.) The challenge becomes, how do we (help those “serving”) grow in this type of discernment, love etc etc etc to practice these qualities? Perhaps that’s where some of the “critique” that you spoke of should come in…?
Again, as stated in the disclaimer, there’s much more going on than my feeble post currently addresses.
…may the conversation continue…