What does the church want? What does the church need? Are those mutually exclusive? Who gets to decide which is more important? Do we automatically cast aside a want since we are talking about religion? Is a want just selfish and we should only want what some select brethren think we need? Should we only be focused on needs? Who gets to decide the difference between a want and a need? Who’s definition do we use?
It seems to me, through more and more conversations with friends, loved ones, and brothers and sisters in Christ that there is a growing disconnect between church leadership and “the flock” along with a growing discontentment with the “religious elite.” The religious elite are those who think they have it all figured out and they are under the impression that their way is the best way. They think that everyone between the second century up through about mid 20th century, during the reformation movement was doing it all wrong and now their enlightened approach is the best and only way.
It seems to me that the church wants and ultimately needs something different than what they have been getting for a long time now. There is an ever increasing number, not so openly vocal, yet, that is dissatisfied with “how we do church.” People are beginning to contemplate making drastic changes that they wish they didn’t have to. Some have already been already willing to sacrifice churches, denominations or ’non-denominations’, friends, relatives, and associations with respected elders. Many are disgruntled, but too afraid to voice it, yet. Some are still trying to overcome the system of guilt with which they were brought up in. Many will walk away without saying a word, maybe even compromising some of their beliefs, because they want changes and there is no other compromise.
So, let me tell you what I believe the church wants.
The Church Wants to Be Authentically Connected
How many of us can say, sadly, that our church experience is more of a “We pretend we are perfect and we don’t connect…” than it is an experience of openness and connectivity – a family feel? It really is sad isn’t it? The church is supposed to be our family. It’s supposed to be made up of “those of like precious faith,” our brothers and sisters, yet we don’t feel connected to each other.
A couple of authors have described their experiences with this lack of connectivity and related the experiences to those of recovery meetings. After all, as one of the famous quotes goes, “The church is a hospital made up of sick people.” We are a recovery group meeting a couple of times per week, but we aren’t even as connected as a non-religious recovery group acts…
“At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another… So why do our churches feel more like country clubs than AA? What makes us exchange the regular pleasantries –‘I’m fine! How are you?’– while mingling beneath a cross upon which hangs a beaten, nearly naked man, suffering publicly on our behalf?” (Rachel Held Evans – Searching for Sunday)
“The particular brand of love and loyalty that seemed to flow so easily [in recovery meetings] wasn’t like anything I’d ever experienced, inside or outside church. But how could this be? How could a bunch of addicts and alcoholics manage to succeed at creating the kind of intimate fellowship so many Christian groups had tried to achieve and failed? Many months would pass before I understood that people bond more deeply over shared brokenness and then they do over shared beliefs.” (Heather Kopp – Sober Mercies)
The church wants to be able to rely on our family. This world really sucks and we want to be able to come into this refuge of family and be able to connect with, at a deep intimate level, with our brothers and sisters and come to rely on one another. We tend to end up relying more on people outside the church, because they don’t feel the need to put on a pretend front.
Let’s stop pretending. Let’s take off the masks. When we spend our time behind a mask we can impress people and fool them, but we cannot connect with them. I think the world would be a healthier place if nobody were allowed to wear a mask. I know the church would be better for it.
Over and over we hear people say that we want more authenticity in our relationships. We are afraid to be authentic. It is a risk. We know there are people that will take advantage of our authenticity, but in order to grow, in order to connect, we have to be willing to take off the mask and be real with each other. The reward far outweighs the risk.
The reward is integrity, and by integrity I mean a soul that is fully integrated – there is no difference between the act and the actual person. Having integrity is about being the same person on the inside that we are on the outside, and if we don’t have integrity, life becomes exhausting and pathetic.
Unless we’re honest with each other, we can’t connect. We can’t be intimate. Honesty is the soil intimacy grows in. How else will we connect with people unless we let them know us?
What if part of God’s message to the world is you? The true and real you? Each of us is unique and if we didn’t exist something in the world would have been lost. Sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us. Your story is the key that can unlock someone else’s prison.
We don’t need people who parrot Christianity. We need people who live it out. I hope that we will accept each other, flaws and all. I suppose that’s how you build a healthy family anyway.
“We bowed out heads and smiled. So much kindness, but still a deep sense of ‘not belonging.’” (Angie Smith)
The church wants to be authentically connected.
The Church Wants More Meaningful – Purposeful Time Together
Our lives are increasingly busier and busier. We are pressed for time and more and more we want to be purposeful with the time we spend on any activity, religious or non-religious. We want to spend time meaningfully.
It’s funny. At the church I go to, every time you start talking to someone about changing up the worship services, maybe cancelling the Sunday night services in lieu of trying to do “something different,” if they don’t agree with your suggestion, the automatic response is that you must not love the Lord if you want to cancel a service. We like our traditions, even if they aren’t the most effective any more.
Ask yourself this… how many souls are being saved through a 45 minute sermon? Is that the best, most meaningful, purposeful time we can spend together? How about sitting around someone’s kitchen table followed by a Bible study? You think that might be a more meaningful and purposeful amount of time we could spend with one another?
Change is scary. I get that. But, as soon as you start talking about any change you get the “slippery slope” argument. We’re afraid to make one change, because once you do that… slippery slope, you lose all control and the whole church goes to Hell in a hand basket. If you stop having Sunday evening services, before you know it we are doing abortions in the baptistry. Sounds stupid doesn’t it? But, that’s basically what the slippery slope argument sounds like.
What’s odd though is that the people that I talk to that want to maybe make a change with the Sunday evening worship, they actually want to spend more time together. Maybe not in a formal pew kind of setting, but would be more than happy to do all the “official church” time in the morning and then spend time with other Christians in small groups or in one another’s homes in the evening. You would still get the same “required” three hours of worship on a Sunday, just in one setting. For a lot of churches the members are spread too far out geographically – it just doesn’t make sense any more. How much sense does it make to drive 20 minutes to worship for 2+ hours, drive 20 minutes to get home, come back and do the same thing again 6 hours later? We don’t spend time together at lunch or after services in the morning or in the afternoon, because we are rushing to get home so we can get ready to come back again later. It’s kind of defeating the purpose. It’s another one of those long-standing traditions since the World War/Reformation Movement era that we are afraid to change even though it could be a very positive change for the church.
The church wants to spend more meaningful/purposeful time together, but not in a pew. We would rather spend more time sitting in a circle than in rows staring at the back of each others heads.
The Church Wants to Be Engaged
The church is tired of being told what people 50-60 years ago decided was the best thing for it to do. The church isn’t necessarily looking to change everything overnight, but the church wants to talk. The church wants to be engaged.
The church doesn’t want to be shot down, just because they want to engage in a conversation about making a change. The church really wants to at least feel like they are being listened to, even though they may be younger and less experienced. They don’t want every conversation to end with a lecture on the restoration movement and necessary inference and common sense (determined by restoration movement apologists, too).
Maybe things are a little more gray than black and white. The gray stuff seems to only be in the secondary issues (those that we tend to make primary) anyway. The primary stuff seems to be pretty black and white – love God and love your neighbors as yourself. I’m gonna say it… Gray is ok! I think that would be a great t-shirt for us to wear to church (at least on Sunday nights).
Maybe we aren’t as nondenominational as we would like to think. Maybe people in all kinds of Christian churches are on a path to Heaven. It wouldn’t hurt for us to admit that maybe we don’t have it all figured out and we can continually engage and figure it out, together.
How can some things in the Bible be just a “matter of conscience” and others are something that will condemn someone’s soul to eternal damnation in Hell? Who decides that? Will drinking a glass of wine send me to Hell? Is wearing a head-covering a must or just a matter of conscience? Musical instruments with worship? We may not agree on those things. We may be told that some of those gray areas may send us to Hell, but then we go and buy a massive building and take out a loan, maybe unequally yoking us to the world, even though the Bible clearly tells us that we should not be bound to any other through the borrowing of money – especially those not of the faith. Let’s not be so dogmatic about everything – let’s engage.
Just because we question… doesn’t mean we are questioning God, but more so questioning the ones presenting their version of God. Let’s engage and talk about what God wants from us.
Let’s talk about it. The church wants to be engaged.
The Church Wants to Trust in a Loving God and Not Be Beaten Into Submission
I will admit that when I was 11, I was baptized because I was scared to death of going to Hell. My whole life I grew up thinking God was up there in Heaven watching, waiting for me to “come of age” so that He could condemn me as soon as I made a mistake. I was not baptized out of a love for the Lord. I was baptized, because I was scared to death of going to Hell.
The church doesn’t want to think that God is in Heaven keeping score. Donald Miller in Scary Close said, “I think a lot of the shame-based religious and political methodology has more to do with keeping people contained than with setting them free. And I’m no fan of it.”
I think that even now, the church can be led the same way – through fear and intimidation. You can’t have a true, intimate relationship with people you control. Control is about fear. Intimacy is about risk… another reason true intimacy is so frightening. It’s the one thing we all want, and must give up control to get.
We don’t want to be driven by guilt. I don’t want to worship one way, only because I am scared to death of another way. I want to worship God, because I know He loves me and desires my worship.
Let’s get rid of the guilt based religion. Imagine what we could be if we stopped carrying around the remains of who we were. We don’t need the constant reminders of how horrible we used to be. We have been redeemed and serve a loving God!
I can’t remember who, but someone once said, “When people try to introduce you to Jesus with more threats than promises, there is a reason to believe they haven’t fully gotten their theology straight.”
We need to be less worried about the church’s man-defined boundaries and more worried about pleasing God… “He is the architect, and our lives were given only to thank Him for His creation. When we spend our time gazing at the church ceiling instead of the sky, we fail to do so.” (Angie Smith – Chasing God)
We need to be less concerned with fulfilling all of these church requirements and more concerned with the heart of the Gospel – loving God and loving our neighbors. Our desire should be more of getting to know God – a desire to hear from the Creator rather than the created.
The church wants to trust in a loving God.
The Church Wants Feelings and Emotions
We are told that we have to separate feeling from faith. The church wants emotion. The church wants to feel.
It’s not just about head knowledge – it’s heart knowledge, too. I think that’s why worship doesn’t feel the way you expect it to after reading through the Psalms. We so focused on being quiet, reverent, and respectful, that we are afraid to feel, afraid to show emotion – and then it doesn’t feel real. It feels like an “act of worship.” Many times we try to just manage our worship. We manage our religion and we end up neglecting the basic truths that God has given us as standards.
He’s God. He’s not a formula to figure out. Think about the God that we serve. He is a passionate God – He feels. I was reminded of this in the story of the Prodigal Son. Who’s Father fixes His son’s bad day by throwing him a party? Our God does!
We are told that feelings can be misleading. Our feelings and emotions can be liars. If you desire emotional worship then you are not doing it right – it’s about God, not about you. That’s not true! Worship is about us and God, together.
We end up spending more time arguing about God than we do experiencing Him.
We can never take the cross for granted. When we nod our heads and our hearts remain unmoved, we’ve taken it for granted. We end up favoring head knowledge over heartbreak for our sin.
I want to have the kind of relationship with God that shows my great-grandchildren that I desired Him more than anything else offered. I want to feel it!
The church wants feelings and emotions.
The Church Wants to Feel Like Its Making a Difference in the World
The church can be told that it is not the business of the church to heal all the social ills in the world. Poverty will never be solved. I mean after all, Christ said that you will always have the poor among you. It’s not the work of the church to help provide clean water to people in Africa. It’s not the responsibility of the church to help widows and orphans that are not a part of the body of Christ, right?
I get confused by the whole church as a collective group vs. the church made up of individuals with separate responsibilities argument. So, an individual is required to help all people, but two or more Christians together (a church) shouldn’t do that? We shouldn’t use money from the collective group to do things that individual Christians should do? What?
I want to make a difference in the world. The church wants to feel like it is making a difference in the world.
The church wants to make a difference. In each others lives. In the lives of people “of the world.” The church doesn’t want to just go to services a couple times a week, drop some money in the plate, take communion and feel good about itself. The church wants to make a difference in this dark world. We want to be a part of that great commission and take the message of Christ to all the people. We want to ease the pain and suffering in someone’s life.
Christ was by far the greatest example of compassion on those outside His body, by healing, by feeding, by touching – the church wants to do the same. We understand that the most important thing to do is to give them the good news, but the church also wants to be the ones in Matthew 25 that did “unto the least of these.” What did they do? They visited, they fed, they clothed. Who? The least of these, and in turn, Jesus.
The church wants the leaders in the church to help organize ways in which we can all feel like we are doing something collectively instead of just learning stuff and working on our own.
The church wants to feel like its making a difference in this dark world.
The Church Wants Leaders
As I grew up in the church, I felt like we had a lot of instructors but not a lot of teachers. There really is a huge difference. It’s kind of like the example we use in business of the difference between a manager and a leader. A teacher walks side by side with you until you can walk alone. An instructor takes you by the neck and tells you what to do. The church, for a very long time has had instructors, but now it wants more leaders.
“I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. Such an approach may repel the masses looking for easy answers from flawless leaders, but I think it might make more disciples of Jesus, and I think it might make healthier, happier pastors. There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Rachel Held Evans – Searching for Sunday)
Maybe the church just needs somebody to show them it’s okay to be a flawed human. Someone that we respect. Someone that leads.
We need leaders to facilitate all of these desires/wants that have been discussed here. Who will help us connect? Who do we want to engage us? Who do we want to lead us in defining more meaningful time together? Who do we want to open up so we will feel like we can be honest, and authentic, and connect with? Who can help us feel and experience the love of God more?
The church wants leaders.
The best news out of all of this? The church wants! The church hasn’t given up. The church has a desire to be all in. The church wants to do more and to be more!