I was going for pretentious with my post title. Did I get there?
I’ve been thinking about church lately. Been doing a chunk of reading, ruminating, contemplating and head scratching. What I’m trying to process is, how did we get here from there?
A week ago a young friend asked, among a group of my friends, “how did we go from a church where everyone brought something to share to what we’ve got today?” I gave a very lame historical answer hoping to dodge the fact that I didn’t really have a good answer for her great question.
So I’ve been thinking about the dynamics of what is today and how different it is from what was then. And I’ve been lurking on some discussions at other blogs, once in a while joining in, on the whole missional vs. attractional discussion. I think it’s an important discussion. And I’m amazed at the Phds who are involved in the discussion who have different takes on this. The main thing I’m certain about in this discussion is that certainty is the least defendable position.
Some say it just doesn’t matter. (That was the chant that won the day for Bill Murray’s crew in the movie Meatballs – a personal favourite from those long ago days.) Either way you win some and what works in one place or time doesn’t in another and the key thing is pragmatism – what works for you?
Some say it does matter. Some say that big box churches are growing but they’re mostly growing by adding Christians, not new believers. Small churches close as big gets bigger (that’s happening where I live). And the heart of the issue is that culture is changing or perhaps HAS changed and those who don’t go to church won’t be attracted to what we’ve built.
In the midst of all that I just keep looking over the landscape of 21st century Christendom in the western world and wonder how we got to this?
Tithing. For example. It’s a big deal. The bigger the church, the bigger deal it becomes. Economically we need to increase revenue to cover expenses and overhead. Despite all the sermons we’ve all heard, and some of us have preached, you just can’t find a New Testament justification for tithing to a local church. This ties in to the missional vs. attractional discussion. Attractional REQUIRES tithers – not just givers – but givers of 10% of their net (if not gross) income. Missional would say, I think, live generously to those in need around you. I also think this is the New Covenant way of relating to wealth. Share. Don’t wait to be asked. When asked, give generously. But tithing is so important to our machinery of the institution that we’ve attached promises to it. I get ads emailed to me from big ministries asking for me to send them money for their expenses and then the next day I get an email inviting me to a conference where, for $300, I can learn the prophetic secrets of wealth accumulation that God’s releasing “in these days”. I think the technical, biblical term for this is “bullshit”.
I get emails from other ministries that tell me sad stories about dying orphans that they can help save if I’ll send them $$. They’ll have what they need for their overhead and will be able to spend money on those starving orphans. My new policy is to request the address of those orphans and I’ll just send any contributions directly to them.
I get other emails from other ministries that tend to focus on families, cough, and they assure me that my regular contribution – or even one time at this special time of year – can help save our nation’s children from the godless influences among us.
How did we develop all of these organizations? Why do we keep supporting them? How crazy are we? Think what could happen locally if we all spent and invested locally. Think what could happen if we invited a stranger over for dinner instead of paying someone to feed strangers who we’ll never have to meet. What would happen if we stopped buying Alpha materials and just started to include friends in on our lives and discussed life over wine and and some jazz music?
I’m not saying these are bad things. I’m just wondering out loud about what we’ve created and now defend that might keep us busy but may not be what we’re supposed to be about.
Let me just lower my voice for a second and tell you what is nagging me around the corners of my thought life – if you tell anyone I said this I’ll deny it – but, what if we’ve spent the last 2000 years complicating the simplest thing in the world? What if we’ve developed programs, institutions, revivals, schools, ministries, and structures to keep people coming and giving and bringing others along and staying excited, when it’s all supposed to much simpler but less conducive to making money, holding power over others, manipulation or accumulating stuff?
And for all my friends who tend towards co-dependency – I’m o.k. I love the local church I’m part of. I see God all around me and I’m living in tremendous hope about my little life here and now. I gather for worship and relationship with the best people on earth. I’m not burned out, tired of ministry, hurt by the church or trying to justify anything (at least as far as I’m aware). I don’t need encouragement – well, I do, but I get loads – I’m just thinking out loud and inviting anyone who’d like to to think along with me.